D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR) Limited Set Review: Black
D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR)
Welcome back! Today we’re rating all those evil-aligned D&D creatures from mere obstacles to your dungeon raids: the skeleton and zombie cannon fodder, to the Big Bads of the whole campaign: nightmarish Liches and Beholders aplenty. Make sure to check out the Introduction if you haven’t already, and otherwise enjoy!
Who is rating?
I’ve been enthralled by Limited ever since I began playing Magic a decade ago. With a particular fondness for flashback and cube, I’ve drafted dozens of sets. On Arena I draft infinitely, having profited more than 50k gems with a winrate that is usually mid-70%s, and have made top 100 mythic many times. I’m an experienced Limited coach with testimonials from people who reached mythic with my help, check out details here if you’re interested!
- S: Ridiculous bomb: has a huge immediate impact on the game and threatens to dominate it if unanswered. Often hard to answer. (Professor Onyx, Kaya the Inexorable, Emeria’s Call)
- A: Bomb or one of the best cards in your deck, pulls you strongly into its colour. (A+: Tanazir Quandrix, A: Sparring Regimen, A-: Swords to Plowshares)
- B: Great playable: happy to pick early, pulls you into its colour or archetype. (B+: Igneous Inspiration, B: Returned Pastcaller B-: Frost Trickster)
- C+: Good playable that rarely gets cut, or very good in the right deck. (Pigment Storm, Karok Wrangler, Divide by Zero)
- C: Fine playable, sometimes gets cut. (Snow Day, Leech Fanatic, Fortifying Draught)
- C-: Mediocre playable or decent filler, gets cut around half the time. (Sudden Breakthrough, Arcane Subtraction, Vortex Runner)
- D: Medium to bad filler, gets cut a lot. (D+: Springmane Cervin, D: Hall Monitor, D-: Detention Vortex)
- F: Cards that are unplayable in the vast majority of decks. (Dragon’s Approach, Secret Rendezvous, Fracture since it’s a sideboard card in most sets)
Grades are based on maindeck power level; if a card is good in the sideboard, I will mention it in the review. Every grade can have a sub-grade within it, but the differences are most pronounced in the C-Category, so they have their own description. Beyond that, a B+ means it’s almost an A, but not quite.
Hive of the Eye Tyrant
This is another of the manland cycle that essentially gives you a free spell in some games for the cost of just one pick. You should take all of them pretty highly. This one is a little worse than the White and Blue ones since it doesn’t scale quite as well into the late game or break through board stalls, and the graveyard exile ability doesn’t add that much, but it’s still great for setting up big attacks and enabling lethal in situations where you otherwise wouldn’t have it.
This effect is better in a beatdown deck, since you’ll be able to make better use of the menace and they’re likely to have fewer blockers, but it’s still good in any deck.
Acererak the Archlich
Tomb of Annihilation is quick enough to complete that this strikes me as a really powerful card in any deck with just four or five Venture sources, and this set has tons. Ideally you don’t want to pay 3 mana just to venture repeatedly early on, but you can just play other stuff and do it later on. Once you finish, the payoff is a bomb that will run away with the game in short order if they don’t kill it.
Asmodeus the Archfiend
This card is by no means a bomb, and actively quite bad in any game where you’re behind, but if you’re at parity or ahead then it has a good chance of just winning you the game. Drawing seven extra cards is nigh unbeatable and the usual problem is that once you draw the cards, you kind of want this off the board so you don’t have to pay more life, but with this card, you can just skip a few draw steps and rely on your seven cards if you need to. If you’re drawing lifegain cards (which is a supported theme this set) then you can just recoup the disadvantage immediately also.
The downside is that you actively can’t play this card if your life total is very low since you literally won’t be able to draw for your turn. Also the draw seven ability costs BBB (along with the 7 life!) – you often will want to wait with this card until you can reach that, because otherwise it’s just pure downside on your draw steps and the body is nothing exciting. Ultimately, I think the risk is worth it, especially in Orzhov with lifegain, but I could certainly see moving this down after I test run it a bit.
This is a pretty medium 6 drop, since both effects are kind of situational, but they can be really powerful in the right circumstances. The problem is that they won’t always have an enchantment and you won’t always be able to kill the one you really want to kill, and the menace ability is negligible unless you’re significantly ahead on creatures.
I think you can generally do better, since this set has really good high end, but this card is definitely better in your beatdown decks where they’re likely to have fewer blocks and be on a lower life total. Still, your beatdown decks will want fewer 6 drops…
This is a really powerful effect and will net you a ton of value, but this card does cost 7 mana unlike some of the other dragons, and 7 mana is far more than 6 – often it takes several turns to draw that extra land and that’s time this card will spend rotting in your hand. Oftentimes it’s better just to play another 6 drop than the first 7, and most decks only have room for one (Golgari decks with ramp can sometimes get away with more).
Still, I’ll be happy to run it in lots of my decks and if the format is slower than I think, I could easily see moving it up to C+.
The Book of Vile Darkness
This card does nothing, since the second ability doesn’t do anything in Limited and there are next to no effects that deal you damage in the set – remember that it only triggers on your turn, so it doesn’t even stop your opponents attacking you.
Check for Traps
I don’t like Agonizing Remorse effects much in Limited – the problem is that they’re really bad topdecks and the window in which they’re good is pretty small. Limited games go long and people frequently have very few cards in hand.
I think this set will be faster than Strixhaven or Theros: Beyond Death and there are more on-board mana sinks (which makes all discard worse, since you’re less likely to lock them out of playing things), so I’m bumping my Agonizing Remorse grade of C- from those sets down even further.
This strikes me as a fine 4 drop, since it has a reasonable attacking statline and is easy to trade off, and then gives you value when you do.
Sacrificing treasure tokens to this is pretty great, since it immediately refunds your investment and provides card advantage. I think access to sacrifice fodder is going to be an all-time high this set, since it’s so easy to get tokens from Venturing, so this is likely to be a reasonable filler card in plenty of decks, especially since Black has a bunch of cards we’re going to see later that synergise with it. It’s good in Rakdos specifically, since that’s the home of treasure generation and there are Goblin tokens aplenty.
Another common use is to sacrifice a creature in response to removal or if it’s being locked down by enchantments, but you shouldn’t spend too long trying to wait for that to happen – it’s a situational thing and this is still a card you need sac fodder for. This is the kind of effect that gets way worse in multiples, so beware that – drawing two of these in an awkward hand will lose you a game.
Death-Priest of Myrkul
This is a strong card if you get even one Skeleton token because it’ll stay in play and threaten to get more, and trades happen all the time in Limited – it shouldn’t be too difficult to set that up if you’re a beatdown deck or have sacrifice effects like Deadly Dispute. You can often set this up just by attacking and playing this post-combat on 5 mana. This buff effect can be massive even outside of the token generation, since there are a full five commons it benefits and it’s specifically great with Clattering Skeletons, since a 5/4 will almost always force a trade.
This isn’t good in every deck – if you don’t have the synergies, then do consider cutting it, but it is really powerful when you do.
I don’t believe that this is likely to be a great set for Mind Rot, since it’s faster than other recent formats and has more on-board mana sinks – you may well not be able to lock them out of using their mana effectively. Still, making your opponent lose 2 life as well is a pretty big game, and saves this card for me – it’s still filler but the occasional beatdown deck might want it and it’s a great sideboard card against a slow deck, whatever you happen to be doing.
Even with treasure tokens, this card sucks – I don’t think sacrificing a treasure to thoughtseize them is that great when you factor in that it’s going to be weak in a lot of matchups after turn 4 or 5. It’s going to take you time and effort to get that treasure, and until then this card will just rot in your hand and do nothing because the failcase is so bad.
This is better out of the sideboard against a slower deck and better in Sealed, but it’s too many hoops to jump through for me to be happy even then.
This card is very understatted and it’s going to be hard for a lot of decks to get it through – either you have lots of removal (which to be fair, Black is good at) or are Dimir with cards like Fly, You Come to a River, or Krydle of Baldur’s Gate. 3 toughness means you’re just trading with most fliers at a mana disadvantage and it doesn’t block well, so the downside is very bad.
Nonetheless, it’s amazing if you do get it through and you should take it higher if you do happen to be able to support it. Drider is very close to Drifter, so maybe it’s secretly great?
If you’re the kind of beatdown deck that might want this card anyway, then it’s reasonable, but this ability isn’t really worth that much. I assume you’ll mostly be going for Tomb of Annihilation, but even then four Ventures to recur this and then have it still not be able to attack on most boards is nothing to write home about. Even if you are a beatdown deck, often this still won’t do enough for long enough or you won’t have enough Ventures.
I do think 2/1s for 1 get better the more dedicated an aggro deck you are – if you’re really the kind of deck that can really push its attackers through and just wants to curve out early as well as it can then go nuts and just have the ability as a mild afterthought. Equipment gives cheap creatures a lot more utility in the late game, and there are plenty that will make this force trades.
This is a fantastic body, and though it suffers from your not being able to block the turn it comes out in some of them, it kills fast enough and has a strong enough ability that every deck will want it. This recursion is nuts – you can just block their stuff later on and recast it using Flash so it gives you a ton of inevitability on top of your efficient powerful card.
Eyes of the Beholder
This may be the weakest removal spell in the set, since anything you kill is almost always going to cost less. Spells don’t usually compete with curve plays, but they do when they’re this expensive so this occupies a 6 drop slot. Play it if you need more interaction and your curve isn’t too high, a situation where it’s not horrible but not exciting either.
This card is usually worse than Soul Salvage, because Venturing is almost always going to be worse than getting a reasonable creature back. It has all the downsides of Soul Salvage in that you need to have a good creature in the yard and can’t really cast it till then – with Soul Salvage, the second hit is less important anyway. So it’s awkward but fine if you need more high end, have good stuff to return, and preferably other Venture cards so you’re getting good value immediately.
Only costing 2 mana is kind of good, since it means you can return and play a 4 drop on turn 6 but you want to build your deck so that it’s something that’s still good at that stage of the game, like a flier or value creature.
Feign Death is an okay trick, in that it’s cheap and you can use it to stop a removal spell or swing a trade in your favour. It’s still pretty situational and you pretty much never want multiple copies, but I think the extra +1/+1 counter is enough value for me to start it as a low C-. This is a set with lots of good enter the battlefield (ETB) abilities, especially in Orzhov, which definitely makes this card better.
This is a pretty powerful card, since repeated Treasure generation is well worth the mana cost, and this pump ability will make combats difficult for your opponents – all of your creatures, no matter how mediocre, have the potential to trade up or deal huge damage once you reach 6 mana. Even if you don’t have time or the life to spit out treasures, it’s good enough in any deck with lots of creatures that I’m happy to give it a high grade.
This is an absurd card, immediately removing an opposing creature while giving you a great attacker, and if they don’t immediately kill it then it can make sure that creature never comes back.
I don’t think the format is so removal-heavy that 4 mana unconditional removal at sorcery speed isn’t one of Black’s best commons, and this one fixes your splashes or ramps you up to 6 – that can really matter a lot in some situations, to the point where you can include more high end if you have a few of these!
This card is easy enough to double spell with on turn 4 or 5 that I’m happy to give it a good grade. You won’t always be able to set up the scenarios where you can play it, even if you leave the mana up, and in some games it’ll rot in your hand for a while, but the payoff is a ton of tempo and Flash is massive on it. In decks that can equip it to give it evasion like Rados decks with Goblin Morningstar, it can be absolutely terrifying.
The fact that it tracks any creature means it can really punish your opponent for killing something pre-combat – at that point, you might be able to eat a 2/x. Most Black decks will have plenty of removal to enable it yourself and it’s good with cards like Deadly Dispute and Sepulcher Ghoul.
Herald of Hadar
This is too expensive and understatted for my liking, even if the mana sink can win you a longer game. Your opponent needs to be behind on life and doing nothing for multiple turns to really care about it, since it doesn’t actually give you value or enhance your board presence. This set seems to have more mana sinks than most, and I’d much rather be Venturing every turn or doing something more impactful.
It’s pretty hard to actually get the card off this for most of the game, but it’s very good if you ever can and this ability mitigates it as a bad draw late. Still, 2 mana 2/2s with no other effect have not been good enough in years and this will be one too much of the time for my liking.
In a Rakdos deck, the main home of treasure tokens, I’d be looking to take this higher, probably at around high C.
Getting a 1/3 through is tough and you’ll often need stuff like Thieves’ Tools or other Equipment, or removal to actually make it happen. It’s pretty rewarding if you do, but still not that massive a deal unless you have the synergies. Sometimes you’ll get great value off this because your opponent will miss their 2 drop on the draw, but that’s unlikely in a set that’s reasonably fast and rewards you for playing cheaper creatures with Equipment. Still, some 2/1s will look pretty embarrassing against it!
This is a decent attacker on paper, always having deathtouch and sometimes dealing 3 damage. Nevertheless, I think it’s not nearly as good as it looks this set because it’s easy for lots of decks summon 1/1 Goblin tokens through Venture, and those completely invalidate this card. I think this is a pretty rough set for x/1 attackers.
This is the kind of card that benefits a lot from Red’s abilities that let you reroll dice, but you can never really rely on it – it’s still a 1 in 10 with those, so it’s a little better but I’m still not that excited. I’m not willing to play this card just to gamble on it rolling a 20, that can help a bit but I need a better reason.
Lolth, Spider Queen
Lolth can’t consistently raise its loyalty and will often go down to just one, but this minus ability is so powerful that I don’t think it really matters – unlike other Planeswalkers, you don’t need to protect this one as much because it will always pay for itself if you minus it, and it’s pretty hard to break through two Spiders when they have reach and give Lolth loyalty. Best case scenario for your opponent is you get a minus and then they kill it with a spell (lots of removal does hit planeswalkers this set), or have a trample/unblockable creature.
Those cases are situational and bad enough for your opponent that Lolth is a megabomb – if they don’t kill it, even if it’s not gaining loyalty, it’s still drawing you two cards per turn! It’s a classic mythic planeswalker that’s unbeatable at parity or when you’re ahead, and still great when you’re behind.
I really liked this effect on Lurking Deadeye and Jarl of the Forsaken, and it’s very easy for it to get a lot of value in letting you trade up creatures. Manticore’s statline isn’t as good for defensive purposes since those bodies had more immediate impact and were much better blockers, but it might actually be better for offensive purposes since it can finish off a weakened opponent and presents a real late game threat where those cards didn’t.
Power Word Kill
Power Word Kill misses a bunch of the format’s big threats, Dragon being especially important, but it’s still about as efficient a removal spell as you can get and it will kill most of what you want. I think it’s a little better than Grim Bounty, but not enough to merit a higher grade.
Getting a little value alongside your removal spell is great, and this is an absurd card once you finish a dungeon which it gets you 1/4 of the way towards by itself. Still, it’s pretty inefficient until you get to that point and usually won’t kill what you want, so you do need those three other Venture cards pretty badly. In a dedicated deck, this card is amazing and an easy B-, and it’s still pretty good in any deck just because of the late game proposition, but I do think it can be awkward early and gets worse in multiples.
Ray of Enfeeblement
Ray of Enfeeblement is absurd and gamewinning if you’re facing a White deck, but it’s decent even if you’re not – you can use it to shrink a creature and then block it (I would recommend going for a multiblock) or to just kill an x/1 of which there are some high value ones. -4 power is quite a lot, and will be enough to even take down equipped creatures. There will be some games where you just don’t have the circumstances line up: you don’t have the creature or only one and they blow you out with instant speed removal, or they’ll have a good trick etc etc, but the card only costs one mana so it’s pretty devastating when it works.
All that and the fact that you can randomly get them if they’re White is enough to merit a good grade. It does get a lot worse in multiples – you really only want to maindeck one copy, but it’s an uncommon so that’s not enough to mark it down.
Talisman is really good, making any creature a big threat and presenting absurd lifeswings. It is rough that it requires you to attack alone, but you can just use it for the deathtouch ability in those spots. It’s nice that it’s not just a beatdown card – it’s good there (especially since I expect those to generally be going tall rather than wide), but as long as you have one creature attacking then you’re doing fine, and Venture means you always have access to some disposable creatures. I see it as just being a solid inclusion in most decks.
There isn’t so much synergy surrounding this that I’m going to give it a really high grade, but some decks will really want it and it does have the potential to attack for quite a lot of damage. If you do happen to have stuff like Zombie Ogre, Grim Wanderer, or Death-Priest or Myrkul, then this might well be one of your best 2 drops.
This being a death trigger is pretty awkward – cards like this are generally pretty hard to set up and -1/-1 or a treasure token isn’t nearly as exciting if you have to do it later in the game. Even if you do sacrifice it, you’re not getting much value unless you’re killing something since a Treasure token probably isn’t worth a card, so you need Deadly Dispute or Skullport Merchant specifically to be really happy. If you do need to chump block and kill an x/1, that’s okay but it’s situational and not very exciting.
I think it’s an awkward situational card that you won’t want in most decks, especially they might well not trade their x/1s and x/2s with you early this set, since they can just wait and equip them.
Spark Reaper was a defining common in War of the Spark Draft, a format full of tokens, and this card is an improvement on it in almost every way. First, it brings its own fodder to the table, then it’s cheaper, then you can activate it multiple times per turn.. unfortunately you can’t sacrifice it to itself so it doesn’t make removal quite as bad, but it’s still the much better card. Aura-based removal is really bad against it, since you can sacrifice anything else and auras don’t shut off this ability.
This is likely to be a less attritiony format with fewer tokens, but this is an absurd way to win any late game scenario where you and your opponents are low on cards, and it blocks well and ramps you to 5s/fixes you early on.
Sphere of Annihilation
Sweepers are excellent in Limited and this one is much worse because of the delay, but it’s still very good. It won’t be quite as much of a surprise and it’s unlikely to net you as much value as a regular wrath but it’ll still force them to pass the turn or play a noncreature spell the turn you play it. You can set it to whatever number you want, meaning you can have it only kill their stuff if you have more expensive creatures, and that’s a potentially gamewinning upside over regular sweepers.
Most importantly, it still has the effect of punishing them if they overcommit. but you mostly want to play it safe – don’t risk delaying too long and letting the damage get out of hand, since you do have to wait that one turn.
This is a pretty good addition to a beatdown deck with lots of small creatures, because it enables some really powerful early turns and fixes your splashes, and then it provides inevitability and an easy route to victory against a weakened opponent. This kind of card forces your opponents to race, which they might not be set up to do well.
It doesn’t pair particularly well with other equipment since its buff is reliant on the creature’s power staying at 3 or less, and there are some decks where it’s completely unplayable, but Black has a lot of tools for aggression this set so I don’t mind taking it reasonably highly.
Vampire Spawn provides a solid lifeswing and enables your lifegain synergies in Orzhov, but it has a pretty weak body and is medium in a beatdown deck as a result – it would be great if it were a 3/2, but a 2/3 gets stonewalled by too many things on the offense. It’s a fine card and can be okay filler in a lot of decks, but I won’t be super excited to have it, and certainly cut it a lot if I don’t have synergy.
This is a bit hard to equip early on, but it provides a great buff and makes all your small creatures threatening even in the late game. It also has a potentially gamewinning late game ability. It’s a bit winmore since you have to have 8 mana and something getting through, but it’s fantastic in topdeck mode and only needs one hit with a flier or whatever.
This Class card strikes me as one of the weaker ones. The obvious home is in a Black beatdown deck with some of the synergies, burning away your opponent for a few points over the course of the game, replacing itself, and then eventually giving you a late game mana sink.
The trouble is that that third ability is kind of winmore, since you have to already be dealing damage and it just hastens their demise a little bit, and obviously it works well with the first ability but you might not have that many creatures left by the time you get to 7 mana. Against an opponent who is racing you or going over the top of you, it’s pretty low impact. You got your card back and some value, but you probably want to aim to win before 7 mana if you’re beating down, and none of its effects are very efficient. I don’t think having this in your opening hand instead of a curve play or a trick is going to be good for you a lot of the time. It’s not an awful card but I think it’s very awkward unless you have a lot of sacrifice synergy/recursive creatures.
It seems pretty poor in a slower deck, since levels 1 and 3 don’t do much and level 2 just replaces itself.
This card is going to be very frustrating to play against, always requiring that you 2 for 1 yourself to stop it and becoming massive in just one swing if you can’t. You pretty much always get a good deal and often win the game if your opponent doesn’t have a removal spell or flying blocker/s, but it’s not as insane as some other bombs since they can just discard a land and not care too much some of the time.
Wight has a great body and an ability that makes it very awkward to trade with. It has the weakness of most 2 drops in that it doesn’t do much past a certain point in the game, but 3 power can still attack into a surprising amount especially when you factor in Equipment. I wouldn’t expect to get more than one Zombie very often, but hey at least they can’t chump it if you go full Voltron!
This card can trade for whatever you want, and has a damage trigger which means they’re forced to do something about it. It wears Equipment really well so the common cases for it all seem very good – it’s decent when you’re ahead or behind. This statline is a bit inefficient and sometimes they’ll just be able to throw a couple of tokens in front, but hey that’ll enable your death triggers!
This is a solid blocking statline, and this card provides pretty good value over the course of the game. It’s a bit awkward since this ability is better in a beatdown deck, where this statline is bad, but there’s plenty of sacrifice synergy running around for it and you want to trade with other creatures rather than itself anyway. Really it’s still fine to have a creature or two that doesn’t attack quite so well in beatdown decks, especially if you’re trying to finish Tomb of Annihilation so this will deal a bunch of damage anyway.
This is a pretty low C+ but I think it will be decent in enough decks.
We’re now halfway into the review, with Red, Green, and Multi to go. I know the set is already out, but sadly Wizards only saw fit to release the full spoilers a day and a half in advance this time! I’ll try to get them out as soon as I can, but this has given me a couple of opportunities to draft the set, which can only benefit the reviews. See you for Red soon!