Kaldheim Limited Set Review: Black
Remember to check out Introduction and White first, for all the background and specifics of this review!
I’ve been enthralled by Limited ever since I began playing Magic, almost ten years ago now. With a particular fondness for flashback and cube drafts, I’ve drafted more sets than I can count on every platform through wildly different eras. On Arena I draft infinitely, having profited 40k or so gems from it at this point, and have made top 100 mythic many times. Self-reflection and forming good habits are paramount to Limited improvement, and those themes feature in many of my articles and in each session of the Limited coaching service I provide; consider booking a session today if you’d like feedback tailored to you that you can really put into practice!
Ever since my first draft in New Phyrexia, I’ve been hooked on Limited – there’s no feeling quite like cracking, even virtually, those first packs of a new set to see what deck you can put together. Since then, scarcely a day has passed by in which the game hasn’t been on my mind. Most of my experience has been in paper, where I drafted every set extensively on release, and entered as many competitive events of it as were available, often doing rather well for myself! Online, I’ve scaled the climb to Mythic in Limited and Constructed alike, and earned a fair few trophies over on MTGO. Limited is one of the hardest things to pick up in Magic, given the innumerable deck combinations and the sub-game that is draft itself, but learning it has been the most rewarding experience I’ve had playing the game.
- S: Ridiculous bomb: has a huge immediate impact on the game and threatens to dominate it if unanswered. (Emeria’s Call, Elder Gargaroth, Luminous Broodmoth)
- A: Very powerful card: approaches bomb status, pulls you strongly into its colour. (A+: Maul of the Skyclaves, A: Scute Swarm, A-: Jace, Mirror Mage)
- B: Great playable: happy to pick early, pulls you into its colour. (B+: Journey to Oblivion, B: Deadly Alliance B-: Kargan Intimidator)
- C+: Good playable that rarely gets cut. (Sea Gate Restoration, Deathbloom Thallid, Dead Weight)
- C: Fine playable, sometimes gets cut. (Farsight Adept, Alpine Watchdog, Honey Mammoth)
- C-: Mediocre playable or decent filler, gets cut around half the time. (Living Tempest, Legion’s Judgment, Raugrin Crystal)
- D: Medium to bad filler, gets cut a lot. (D+: Inordinate Rage, D: Utility Knife, D-: Sizzling Barrage)
- F: Mostly to totally unplayable cards. (Forsaken Monument, Miscast, Blazing Volley since it’s a sideboard card)
Grades are based on maindeck power level; if a card is good in the sideboard, we will mention it in the review. Every grade can have a sub-grade, 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.
Blood on the Snow
Wrath effects are great in Limited, we know this already… but when you get to put something into play immediately after a wrath effect, even if it’s just a 2 or 3 drop, that catapults it to absurd – suddenly it’s so much harder for them to recover, to just untap and play two guys and overwhelm you. I think reaching double snow shouldn’t be too hard, since that only costs you six or seven of your 45 picks and duals will be high picks anyway, but you won’t always have a 2 drop to bring back which can be a bit awkward. If you do manage to reach triple snow mana, that is the point where this card is totally absurd, and with eight lands, you’re about 50% to do so on turn 6 (and you’ll often be playing this later than that anyway). That puts you at 50% to completely steamroll them, and 50% to just have an expensive wrath and collect your 3-for-1 or whatever – the failcase of this card is still great, and the ceiling is gamewinning.
Play this in your deck if you have zero ways to generate snow mana but lower the grade to an A-. Making board wipes cost 6 can be enough to price them out of the game, but being able to return a fallen creature to re-establish your board presence gives this a lot of the power Doomskar has, at the cost of flexibility in cost.
There aren’t too many second spell payoffs, and this is one of the best ones. Like many of the other cards in that mechanic, you do want to have a lower curve or a bunch of Foretell cards with cheap flip costs to take full advantage of it, but the payoff is certainly there – just playing this on turn 4 and then another 2 drop will be a great swing, and if you can trigger this twice then the tempo advantage of a 2 mana 5/5 can easily snowball a game. Even late in the game, while it’s not good, it might be better than some other 2 drops – you hold it till you draw another spell and still get a 3/3, whereas a random 2/2 bear might just be relegated to dying for free in a double or triple block by that point.
This is a powerful beatdown card too – you don’t need to be building around the synergies specifically to want this; rather, you just need to have enough cheap cards/foretells in your deck.
This is a great rate if you can cast two spells even once, and if you get to trigger it twice with good cards and it’s still alive, you’re probably winning said game. It can be problematic when you draw it late as the 1/1 body isn’t going to be affecting anything at that point – Although if you hold out for another spell you can at least double up and get a 3/3 by casting this first.
A 6/6 flier that draws a card for 6 is fantastic, and this is a lot better than that – you’ll never draw a land with it if you don’t really need one, and you’ll always get something you need. You can always get the second best card left in your deck, at the cost of making your future topdecks worse, but that’ll almost always be worth it – are they really beating a 6/6 flier for 6 plus anything good at all? If they have any hope of doing that, you just get two decent cards or two removal spells. Heck, if your hand is really stacked and you’re casting this later in the game, you can get two cards you can cast immediately to put on even more pressure.
One cool aspect of this is that your opponent doesn’t always know what you want – maybe you can get two big creatures, have them ditch the better one, and then reanimate it for example, or maybe they’ll give you a burn spell over the best card in your deck on 6 life, and you’ll just finish them off with a second burn spell from your hand. All this is marginal, but this sort of scenario will come up! This card has a lot of potential for mindgames, and I think it will play out amazingly well. I consider this a high A, and could see going up to A+ if the set is a bit slower than I currently think.
A 6/6 flyer flyer scores a good grade regardless, but the enters the battlefield here is going to be a very interesting one to play with depending on how many replacable effects you have in your deck. Being a punisher mechanic does make it worse, but you’re never getting a bad deal – that is, unless you choose to. The best case scenario is going to be to fetch something like a Raise the Draugr and a creature you want to take the randomness out entirely. Otherwise every game it’ll be a tough choice between getting to draw the second best remaining card in your deck at the expense of never drawing the first, or going for two middling options – at the very least, it’s hard to construct a scenario where this is worse than ‘draw a card’.
This is obviously a fantastic card alongside Changelings or in your Berserker deck (Black really has a lot of Berserkers at common, so it’ll happen naturally), but you don’t need to get all that fancy with it. Just getting a 2 for 1 is good, and that’s very easy – you just have one creature in play and they have two. The floor is powerful, and the ceiling is totally absurd on this card.
The awkward case scenario is sometimes you’ll both be playing a Black deck or they’ll have their own changelings (which this can never hit since you must name a creature type), and that certainly matters and makes this card worse but in the former case, you can still set it up like you would a regular wrath – by not playing out your own Berserkers or whatever. It also loses a few points against Green and Blue decks, since they have a lot of bulky blockers, but remember that you can just attack into them first and cast this once their creatures have damage on them.
This will often amount to a one-sided board wipe if you can build your deck around it, and at just 4 mana you’ll always be able to find a situation to turn a card in your favour. That is unless your opponent is heavy on changelings, which does lower the grade slightly in this set. If you don’t have any creatures, I suggest choosing Brushwagg as your chosen type.
If you can buff this with relative ease, you’re getting a great rate. I would want about four or five ways to do that to be happy to play this card, and this set is unusually good at that – it has three common Equipment, and all of them are reasonable cards. This is an especially solid card in Orzhov, with the medley of common White auras.
What holds this back for me a bit is that Black is lacking too many ways to buff it up, so you really do need to be in the right colour pair or to pick up those common Equipment, which I suspect there’ll be plenty of competition for. I wouldn’t play this card without synergy – you might say “the failcase is a 2/2 bear which is pretty reasonable anyway”, but that’s more like the Limited of two or three years ago – you shouldn’t play vanilla bears unless you’re desperate for 2s anymore, because you can do so much better nowadays, especially in a Foretell set where you don’t need as many 2s, and especially if you’re not particularly aggressive.
You need to find some synergy to make this card worth playing, but with several good ways (read: equipment) to boost its power, this becomes one of the most efficient two drops in the set. It won’t be a super frequent case that you get enough to justify however so be sure you can consistently boost it as Runeclaw Bear has seen better days on the power level chart. Sometimes your opponent will be scared to block this card, for fear of you using a trick and making a free 2/2, which is definite upside.
This is a pretty situational effect that won’t always do anything – the common situations for it don’t come up nearly as much as you might think, and remember that having to wait around for multiple turns and sometimes have to hold up mana is a big cost in itself. When it does finally do something, it’s not something that good – you 1 for 1 with a creature and maybe trade up on mana a bit at best. Sometimes you’ll recur an ETB or death trigger and it’ll be really good, but that’s another layer of conditionality. Basically, it’s a big risk to put this card in your deck: the floor is a dead card rotting in your hand or you getting blown out by instant speed removal, and the ceiling is never that exciting.
This is a card you should only play when you’re beating down and forcing them to block you, and when you have cards like Deathknell Berserker (but remember that when you make a suspicious attack with Deathknell Berserker, any reasonable opponent will sniff out your trick and not block!) or second spell per turn payoffs alongside it, or you’re just lacking for other better tricks and removal. In most decks, it really doesn’t belong, but I do think it has the potential to be decent filler in some of those decks. This is a low D+ from me.
A sufficient combat trick when you need one, even if it’s double the price of Supernatural Stamina. Normally I’d skew away from playing cards like this in favour of removal, but with only one piece of no-fuss removal in the set, this might creep into your deck more than you’d expect.
I think Ill-Gotten Inheritance losing its activated ability is a pretty big downgrade – so many races were won by that, in games that the controller would otherwise have lost to creatures. Ill-Gotten Inheritance and Sanctum of Stone Fangs were at their best in decks that were beating down and used it as a finisher that was hard to interact with, and this will give them far too much time to be amazing in that role. In Ravnica Allegiance, it was an especially good card because of Spectacle and it combining nicely with all the other drain in Orzhov, and those synergies really aren’t present here.
I think this is still a mediocre card in most slow decks – you won’t have the time to tap out for it until you’ve already stabilised the board and it’s a truly glacial win condition without prior damage. Slow decks don’t need dedicated wincons anyway – something as innocuous as a 2/2 attacker can win the game in trivial fashion when the board is locked up. I see this card at its best in Black beatdown decks that really need reach, or Control decks with tons of cheap removal, especially cards like Bind the Monster and Tergrid’s Shadow, that desperately need the lifegain to hang on because they’ll have had to take a bunch of damage to stabilise. Everywhere else, it’s just medium filler.
I will admit to being one of the people who underrated IGI when I first saw it, but I rated Sanctum of Stone Fangs highly because it was 2 mana, and this time I think I’m right!
I have fond memories of draining my opponents to death with Ill-Gotten Inheritance, to the surprise of most on initial set review. However losing the activated ability does take out a good chunk of the value alongside less lifegain synergy, which means I’m less eager to include this. I think the first copy will still pull its weight, but given the likely slower speed of the format, it may find a nice little home for itself.
This is a card that can trivially take over the game if it lives for very long at all, making trades a nightmare for your opponents and removal gamewinning. It does require some snow investment to be at its full potential, but it should be easy to get a few snow lands, you’ll want them anyway, and you won’t even need them in a lot of cases – your opponents will often be playing at least one of the same colours! Much of the removal in this set is enchantment-based, which doesn’t actually answer this card. In some games, this effect can be a bit too slow, but if nothing else, a 4 mana 4/4 is a solid statline anyway.
This card makes engaging in the game in just about any way hard for your opponent, if you have the snow to back it up. Trading becomes impossible while this is on board, chump blocks become unappealing, and your removal skyrockets in value. Just remember the Necromancer needs to remain on the field in order to cast the spells, so protect him at all costs while he still has something to cast. And at worst, if you pick him early and end with zero snow lands, 4/4 for 4 mana is a good rate regardless, especially if it draws your opponent’s fire.
4 mana 3/3 is a pretty bad statline, and while this has a powerful ability, it’s also a very expensive one. Sinking all your mana into it will make it hard to protect your Boast creature and ensure it survives combat, and this statline is poor enough that getting a clean attack will often be hard anyway. This is a combo with Raven Wings and Rune of Flight, but those combo with other better creatures, and it’s a big additional investment just to make this card decent. It will force them to hold stuff back/have blockers available for it, which is nice. I foresee cutting this significantly more than I play it, so I can’t give it that high a grade.
It’s very expensive to get any value from and the statline doesn’t make up for it. By the time you have the mana to spare and something worth getting back, being able to successfully attack with a 3/3 is far from guaranteed. Surviving just one activation will feel very powerful though. In the late game, your opponent is kind of forced into blocking this, because if they block anything else then you get that creature back and play it again, and then they have the same decision next turn.
This is a card that I’m really happy to have, because 5 mana for a 4/4 Menace is a solid statline to begin with, and after that card dies, I still have this equipment, which buffs anything enough to make it a real threat. Still, neither side is that efficient – a 5 mana 4/4 Menace isn’t that great a blocker and doesn’t attack that well on a lot of boards, and the equip cost is very steep on the equipment so that’s going to be a late game ability, where it still won’t really break through stalls or help that much in attrition games. This is the kind of card that’s really feast or famine – the ability will be weak in a lot of games, where you’re not especially far ahead, but singlehandedly win the ones over time where they can’t establish good defenses and get ground down by it over time. I’m starting this at low B- for now, but could see moving it down or up.
You’ll practically never be casting this without the kicker unless you are winning the game that turn from the haste. 4/4 menace for 4 is a fine rate in most decks, and if it dies, you get a sizeable advantage left over. There isn’t a Black deck that won’t like this.
I think this card is deceptively decent, because it plays the defensive and offensive roles both well, and is good at winning drawn out games. Most of the removal in the set that can hit this is aura-based, many of which don’t turn off this ability. That being said, it’s a 6 drop, you can’t play too many and you will often just be able to do better, and it requires you to be playing a high creature count for the ability to really threaten them, unless they’ve taken a lot of prior damage.
It’s expensive enough and places a high demand on your graveyard, but sitting back with this body to block and getting in a few activations is a great way to force a stalemate into a way to close the game. It does discourage you from having other cards that care about the graveyard however as the body isn’t impressive alone and it demands ALL THE CREATURES, so not every deck will want it.
This is a 2 drop that makes a bunch of your cards cheaper for free, and threatens to hit really hard. By foretelling instants, it can also ambush things, though 3 toughness isn’t the greatest at doing that. The promise of explosive early turns, making some of the synergies in your deck better (especially in Orzhov), and a decent attacker makes this a versatile and powerful 2 drop.
While this will never save you mana, it does promise to set up some explosive turns. You will likely get value out of this if it never attacks, but everything about the card is leaning towards foretelling for a few turns before setting up an explosive turn with several cards cast and a large devourer crushing your opponents’ dreams. It enables most cards in your deck to play into the cast-two-spells-per-turn synergies across white and Black, turning the archetype into a powerhouse with this…thing on board.
A 1/2 attacker is never really what you want, even in aggressive decks. Even if you have second spell per turn payoffs and buffs to make use of it, those synergies will be fine without this card, and you should put those buffs on cards that aren’t completely dead if you don’t happen to have drawn them at the right time – equipping and putting auras on things is a big cost, so they should be playable without that. Having to pay 1 for the Boast is pretty bad too – you put in all this work just to get this to attack, and it requires an additional tax of you that you won’t always be able to pay, especially in your aggro deck where you want to use all your mana for better things every turn.
Ultimately, I don’t think this is playable anywhere, and encourage everyone to stay away.
Black is too slow to want this sort of card in 9/10 drafts, and even when you “get there”, it only climbs up to a D-, which is still bad. It gets invalidated on turn 2 as you will need your mana for something else, and by the time it can attack, a 1/2 is just set for death.
Egon, God of Death
Egon is a hard card to evaluate – I think some people will make the mistake of thinking it’s much better than it is, but it’s also not a bad card. It’s a versatile combination of two modes – in the mid to late game or when you need blockers, it’s a 6/6 for 2-3 turns and is a really fast clock that interacts well with removal, and then you still get your card back when it finally exhausts itself. I think the 6/6 mode will actually come up a lot because unless your graveyard is actually empty, it’ll still win race situations and be a huge problem for a while that they don’t want to remove.
On the other side, I think Jayemdae Tome’s main weakness in Limited is that there are lots of occasions where it’s really awkward and you just want a card that can block or buy you time instead, which the offer mode offers here! Jayemdae Tome in the spots where it’s good can be really devastating, so I think the two modes help each other out a lot.
The two sides certainly have their downsides and you need to pick your spots with them – you can’t just run Egon out with no graveyard, and you don’t want to play the Tome in a game that has been going a while when you’re in danger of decking or where you don’t have the time to draw with it. Nonetheless, I think it will have enough good cases to add up to a reasonable card, even if neither side is particularly exciting.
This card simply asks too much from you in the average game. If you can set up the constant mill feed a 6/6 for 3 will take over the game but it’s incredibly unlikely to last for long – at least you get a card back when all is said and done. The artifact side is a little too pricey on the sacrifice, with 7 mana until you reach card advantage a little too pricey. Adding them both together makes enough that it’ll be playable, but I wouldn’t hold high hopes for this card.
Burglar Rat is a solid card, even more so when it has relevant types and there are double spell payoffs to make use of it. This is especially great with ways to trade the body for a real card like Jarl of the Forsaken, Village Rites, and Rune of Mortality, and there are enough this set that I’m starting it high.
This genre of cards is always one I’m happy to play a few of, being one of the simplest forms of card advantage Black gets, especially if you can find a use for the body and multiple cards will make use of it in this set. In the later turns, it’ll be harder to predict when your opponent will only go down to 1-2 cards, thanks to Foretell, so it will be harder to snag those, but any hit will be fine.
Flying and lifelink on this big a creature is game-winning, and your opponent better remove it quickly. This ability will be devastating in some spots, and you don’t need to activate it when you don’t have good stuff to sacrifice. Still, just having this amazing body lying around while you’re both sacrificing creatures will leave you very far ahead.
Speaking of ways to use an Elderfang Disciple, you can’t get much better than this. An extra point of toughness might have bumped the grade even more, but this will take over the game in short fashion – flying and lifelink is a notorious combo. The hexproof will rarely come up but it makes for a pretty quick way to win the mythic war if it does.
Feed the Serpent
This is about the most efficient common removal you can ask for, and it’s not splashable so non-black decks can’t compete with you as much! A format-defining common in a set with very few unconditional ways to straight up remove things, and a big draw into Black.
Who’d have though 2 life was all it took to be a rare. 4 mana at instant speed beats what we usually get, so you want as many copies of this as you can fit in your deck.
This card has some potential to 2 for 1 in the late game, since with enough snow mana, it can be a 5/2 or 6/2 menace attacker, forcing your opponents to sacrifice two creatures to double block. Being a snow creature helps out some synergies, though mostly in Blue and Green rather than Black. This is a weak enough statline and low impact enough until you start using the ability, that I’m still not that excited, but it’s certainly a fine card.
One activation is all you need to make this good, and with both menace and power, you have the flexibility of choosing how you want to force your opponent to block. The timing of before attackers or after blockers will vary depending on where you are, making this an interesting one to play with.
A 4 mana 2/2 Flample is a pretty bad statline, so I really need to have this ability online to be happy. For that, I really need to be a somewhat dedicated snow deck with 6 or 7 sources, and it’s not doing much until I can activate it. I think quadruple snow is mostly a pipe dream even in dedicated decks, but it can come up in some really long games where you’ll topdeck this and it’ll kill them in just one or two turns.
Ultimately, I don’t think Black is by itself the best place for the dedicated Snow decks, so you’ll have to be Golgari or Dimir to especially want this, but it has the potential to be really good, especially with the Green snow land searchers. I don’t think decks with fewer than 6 snow sources will want to play this card very often.
Probably award for card I most want on a playmat in the set. The double snow requirement on this makes it a little tougher to fall in love with, and quadruple snow is a strong but unreasonable expectation for most decks. You need the consistent activation to make this good and then it becomes quite a costly investment – that said, any card that can attack for 4 flying is going to do some damage.
There’s a strong tribal theme to this set, and many of the cards within a colour line up within similar tribes, even without factoring in Changelings. I don’t think it’ll be too hard to get two creatures of the same type to return, but it is unfortunate that you won’t always get the exact two creatures you want, and returning a 2 drop Elf on turn 6 because that’s the only one that aligns with the other card you want to return will be awkward. Still, the Foretell on this card is an interesting additional mode, and I foresee using it to return more creatures some decent proportion of the time. I might be overrating this card a little, but I think this is an unusually good set for it and the ceiling is very high.
If you get to the point where the foretell is relevant on this card it’s probably a game you’re winning. Keeping it to two of the same creature type is restrictive enough that I can’t rate this too highly for the average deck, but if you can build towards it this is certainly a good payoff given you have enough time for creatures to hit the graveyard.
This common is probably slightly worse than it looks because it costs 3 mana, rather than fewer – it’s unlikely for you to be able to double spell and make it a 3/3 the turn you play it because of that, so you really need that to happen on turn 4, and it’ll be a little behind on the curve for a while. Still, the payoff is certainly there, and if you have mostly cheap spells and foretell cards in your deck then it rewards you freely for just playing the game. As soon as it gets its second counter, it’s a fantastic rate, and it only scales up and continues to be threatening from there. In the late game, you can start to save spells to get massive hits in with this card, and it can certainly end a longer game with a big 4 or 5 power flying attack. Foretell really helps this card out a lot, because it means you can do two impactful things on turn 4 and ensure this gets the counter much more often. This is a very important common for the Orzhov second spell deck, and is more like a B- in Orzhov.
Another great incentive to be casting multiple spells a turn, if you can keep the pace this threatens to end the game quickly. You need the first double cast for this to be worthwhile, but a few of this will place a high premium on cheap spells in your deck.
Jarl of the Forsaken
I was very fond of Lurking Deadeye in Ikoria – it allowed you to trade up with your cards, was a fantastic combo with any creature with a good enter the battlefield ability but a disposable body, and traded up itself or put on a ton of pressure. I think this card is worse, because 4 power was so important on that card, but it’s great nonetheless, especially since Foretell makes it much easier to hold up for the right moment. I think Black doesn’t have truly tons of disposable bodies this set, so I’m going to start at high C+, but could see moving it up.
This will be an excellent card the first week or so of the set, then spiral to just good after people learn what a foretold Black card can mean. The effect has been strong in previous sets turning most combats into your favour and is a surprisingly good way to deal with threats. This is the kind of card that heavily benefits from foretell – 4 mana is hard to keep up without purpose for two is a reasonable ask.
This is a really powerful card for any beatdown deck – we’ve seen this ability before, but only on one creature. With two creatures, it can be a total nightmare for your opponents, since it goes from enabling around 3-4 free damage to 6-7 in the good spots for it. This is the kind of card that asks for you to be ahead or at parity, and for them not to have too many huge blockers, and then it can be pretty crazy. This combines well with creatures that do something when they attack, like Koma’s Faithful.
That being said, that exact scenario won’t always come up, and on some boards its ability won’t be worth much. If you have clean attacks and are in a race situation or fending off against fliers anyway, then this isn’t the card you want, especially with a pretty weak statline. There’s also the fact that beatdown decks can’t afford to run too many 5s, and would rather be enabling their two spell per turn synergies/relying on Foretell cards for late game this set. Ultimately, I think this is a card beatdown decks will want 1-2 of, but shouldn’t prioritise too highly.
This isn’t built for every Black deck, but if you hit two target’s it’s likely to cause some awkward blocking decisions at most points in the game while leaving behind a body ready to block after your assault. Chaining these together back to back is going to be rough, but at 5 mana you can’t run too many – at least this type of effect isn’t competing for the removal slot at 5 like it can be in a lot of sets.
I’m pretty happy with this card – 3/1 Lifelink for 3 was pretty below rate by itself in previous formats, but adding this extra effect to it is really nice and pushes it over the edge. This is the kind of card I want to enable my exile a creature from your graveyard payoffs like Weigh Down and Stalwart Valkyrie, and is just something I’m happy to run in any slower strategy that doesn’t have much other lifegain, like Dimir with cards like Bind the Monster. Remember that each player milling is a downside over just you milling – you do not want to enable your opponents’ graveyard synergies for them – but as a Black deck, you’re likely to have more payoffs at least.
It is worth noting that the 3/1 statline doesn’t attack that well into Blue and Green this set, since there are lots of common 1/4s and 2/5s in those strategies, but Red and White also seems to have a greater density of high power low toughness creatures, which this does block well, so it evens out. I could see boarding this out against Blue/Green a lot, if you’re playing best-of-three.
This set has multiple cards that card about the graveyard across Green and Black, so just as long as this isn’t helping your opponent as much as you quite a few decks will enjoy this effect, and the lifelink makes this playable in those decks without it.
Poison the Cup
Ah, here’s the best removal spell at low rarities in the set. This one that’s even a great splash, despite being double colour, because you can just foretell it and cast it on your opponent’s turn. Getting to scry 2 attached to unconditional removal is absurd, and this is one of the best uncommons.
Murder already earns a high grade, gaining the scry two makes an efficient spell devastating when it can essentially come with a cantrip (if you scry away a land) and cost reduction late game. It also hits the flavour homerun on so many levels… I hope to first pick this card often.
Priest of the Haunted Edge
This is a really powerful card once you get to three snow lands in play, and still pretty good at two. It’ll sit in play, be a solid blocker early on, and then make their attacks awkward or trade for a flier late game. Threat of activation is a big deal here, since opponents will have to play scared with their valuable creatures into it, lest they attack, are shrunk, and blocked.
To have three snow lands consistently in the late game, you want 8-9 in your deck, so you do need to be a dedicated snow deck or to have the Green snow land searchers to make great use of this, but it’s a solid draw into the snow strategy.
On-board tricks, only as sorcery and based on your snow lands all hurt this card. However once you hit three snow lands this will be trading up without leaving your opponent a choice, and at two it’ll still take out fliers while holding the ground in the meantime. This is just what a slow decks wants.
Raise the Draugr
2 mana at instant speed for this effect is a much better rate than we’ve seen before, but you do trade it for not being able to get precisely what you want all the time. Still, I think by the mid to late game, enough of the common and uncommon creatures share types in this set, especially accounting for changelings, that you should be able to get two things back in a lot of decks. If you can’t do that consistently (so you don’t have at least 8 or so cards that share creature types) then it’s quite bad, and it is important that you’re returning creatures that are still having a decent effect late – random vanilla 2/2 bears are an okay thing to bring back if you’re also getting something good, but it’s not very exciting if you have to get back two bears, and you will have to sometimes or just return one bigger thing.
I consider this a high C and could see moving up to C+, but I think some decks will really struggle to have both good targets and enough targets.
I’m tempted to give this B- in this set, and if you can get your creature types together you want multiple of these if you can snag a Infernal Pet or two, making double spelling turn after turn all the more easier. Getting essentially three spell casts from one card will win some games by itself, but you do need the targets to already have died so it’s a little unreliable anywhere near a curve out.
Return Upon the Tide
Rise from the Grave is always a card people overplay in Limited, and this isn’t a set with all that much self mill to enable it, at least outside Golgari. That means you need to play something good and have it die before this card stops rotting in your hand, and that’s a really late game proposition. Unbreakable Bond was worth it because it granted lifelink, a really powerful ability to give any big creature, and what do we get from this instead? The promise of sometimes, probably less than half the time really, getting two 1/1s, which might enable some chump blocks or a double block but aren’t really a massive deal this late in the game.
If we have a cursory look at the common and uncommon Elves in the set, the best ones to reanimate are Skemfar Shadowsage, and a vanilla 5/5 for 5. Neither of those is very exciting to jump through so many hoops to reanimate. Foretell does help this card, but ultimately I wouldn’t play it outside of a specific Golgari deck with self-mill and good targets, or outside of a deck with multiple copies of Tergrid’s Shadow, for example.
This effect generally isn’t very desirable at 5 mana and the foretell doesn’t help unless you get a very lucky mill – your good targets will only hit the graveyard in the average game once mana is less of an issue. The elves text is pretty deceiving as there’s only one elf I’d want to spend 5 mana reanimating in Black, and 2 1/1’s don’t change that. If you happen to be in Green elf tribal this rating does go up, but I don’t expect that to be a deck you land in often.
Rise of the Dread Marn
This effect can be very situational – it just doesn’t always happen that two creatures trade in combat when you want them to, and that’s what you need to happen for it to be a fine rate. That being said, when Foretold, this is pretty efficient and having to hold up 1 mana isn’t so bad. I’m inclined to start it highly because the ceiling is very high, but I do foresee plenty of turns where it’ll just rot in my hand, and I’ll wish it were any other card, or when I’ll be forced to cash it in for a 2/2 out of desperation. Sometimes it just so happens that you don’t draw that many creatures to set up trades, and in a spell-heavy draw or one where your opponent is simply removing your stuff rather than trading with it (which is what beatdown decks seek to do, is clear the way), this will look really bad. I think it’s not unlikely that I end up moving this card down or up, since it feels like a card I need to play with to evaluate fully.
If two creatures trade, this is above average rate, and with a foretell cost of one mana this will be quite easy to set up. Anymore than that and it’ll be a blowout, and at rare you’re opponent won’t see it coming. The failcase is it does nothing at the worst of times, but two zombies is fairly easy to achieve.
Rune of Mortality
This strikes me as the third best Rune, after Blue and Green. Deathtouch is a really nice ability either to put on disposable creatures, and best on big defensively-statted creatures, like 2/5s and 1/4s. A 2/4 or 5 specifically is a nightmare to attack into, and will chip away at your opponent with this Rune. This is a really powerful combo with Hagi Mob in Red, the set’s only pinger, allowing you to blow away creature after creature for just 2 mana per turn, and clearing the way for its own Boast attacks.
This is one of the less useful ones to put on equipment, since deathtouch has diminishing returns, given that you’re still 1-for-1ing on the ground a bunch and your small creatures will be whittled away, but still solid enough.
Deathtouch isn’t the most useful ability to grant, although if you have a cheap token or something with a lot of toughness it can be good, although on average this will benefit least from going onto an equipment. Drawing a card means it’ll never be a bad addition at the very least – but it’s worth noting If you can pair this with a Hagi Mob in Red it suddenly becomes a much, much more desirable card, and at common if you find yourself in Red already this becomes a much higher priority.
There are enough Elves and Berserkers at common in Black (five decent ones!), that this provides a very real extra ability to some proportion of your creatures, and the base case is fine anyway. This will probably eat a removal spell before your opponent is happy to trade with those, which is a fantastic case for a 2 drop. Additionally, much of the removal in the set is aura-based, which doesn’t deal with this at all! I’m starting at low B+, because I really believe in this card in this environment, but it may just be a B.
The rate is fine if you have no other elves or berserkers so I’ll always be content to pick it, but it can make any of your smaller friends a real problem while it sits back. There are enough playable elves and berserkers if you’re in Red or Green to make this reach a B, but if you find yourself without sufficient targets it won’t have text most games. However if you take this early enough to skew your creature base slightly it does go up.
There are enough cards with tribal synergies this set that I’m pretty excited to draft this card – it’ll finish a weakened opponent off or buy you a bunch of time, with a pretty good blocking statline. Remember that it counts itself, so you only need two other Elves or Clerics to get a great effect, and if you know about this card then you can avoid trading off creatures of the type you’re trying to set up.
This is a great reason to find tribal synergies wherever you can. It’ll likely deal at least a few points of damage or lifegain with a decent body to back it up and threatens to end a board stall with ease.
This is the best Mind Rot I’ve ever seen, and I think most black decks will be happy to have one, as long as they’re not trying to beat down too hard. This will always be a 2 for 1, preserving the spots in which Mind Rot is good and mitigating the spots where it’s bad. You can still get the absurd blowout when they only have two cards left on turn 6, in fact that’s much easier to set up because Foretell is really good on this and doesn’t require you taking as much of a tempo hit, and now it’s no longer a bad topdeck. As usual with Foretell, second spell synergies will come up too.
In the late game, your opponent might be able to hold a land to try to lessen the impact of this, but that’s pretty situational and you honestly don’t care that much unless they’re particularly flooded and it’s two. At that point, that’s a very small and unlikely risk, especially if you compare it to Mind Rot’s normal risks…
All that being said, it’s still kind of slow and has to be awkwardly timed, and you don’t want multiples in most decks.
This new mind rot is my favourite kind yet. 4 mana is a steeper cost but the fact you’ll always be up on the deal more than justifies the expense and makes it more desirable in multiples. Combined with foretell it makes for a decent little role-player.
Tergrid, God of Fright
It’s going to be tricky for Tergrid’s abilities beyond Menace to mean much, but there are a few cards like Skull Raid and Tergrid’s Shadow that enable her. Still, just treat her as a 4/5 Menace for 5, which is a decent statline.
Torment of Scarabs was a card that everyone slept on in Hour of Devastation, but actually turned out to be pretty good (PSA: Hour of Devastation is a fantastic slow and grindy format with great fixing and 4-5 colour decks, and I’d recommend it to those of you who ever get a chance to try it – imagine all the sweet decks from Amonkhet Remastered, but that’s the whole format, and that annoying Exert stuff isn’t nearly as good). Over the course of a long game, it’s very good at grinding your opponent down to nothing, and this untap ability makes it all the quicker.
In any longer game where you want to take the time off, you want to run out the lantern mode, and if not and you’d rather just pressure or block, or if you actually have synergy with Tergrid, then settle for her. I think this is a combination of two solid around B- level cards, and the versatility and the fact that they cover each other’s bad cases makes me happy to give it a high grade.
The front side is a fine body, but there’s very little synergy at common to force value from it. However the back side offers consistent pressure on your opponent. Torment of Scarabs turned out quite good in Amonkhet and this gets to work a turn sooner with great inevitability on the untap. Combined these offer an amazing level of versatility, either contributing to the board if you need defence or setting up an inevitable win if it’s settled.
It’s also cute that you can target yourself as a sacrifice outlet or to enable reanimation, not that it will come up much.
This card pairs really well with other Foretells and instant/sorcery ways to use your mana, the more the better – if you can spend a bunch of time drawing cards, playing disposable creatures, or foretelling cards to play later on, then this card will end up being very good. I don’t think it’s too hard to set up Foretell this on turn 2, Foretell something else on turn 3, and then cast this to make them sacrifice two things, if you’re playing Dimir or another heavy Foretell colour combination, and it’s a sequence you might want to try to play around against a Black deck in Limited, if they seem to be gearing up for it (though it’s an uncommon, so you don’t want to go to too great lengths – if you have your own stuff to foretell/other ways to use mana, you might want to cast them instead of adding to the board).
That being said, it’s going to be really mediocre when your opponent has more disposable creatures than you do, and that’s not really a circumstance you’ll have much control over unless it’s by trading actively. You really need a way to break the symmetry, whether it’s through this Foretell line or by playing Elderfang Disciple, or just playing a very controlling deck with multiple copies of Dogged Pursuit, since just casting it straight up is pretty mediocre – just trading up a 2 drop and a 3 drop for a 3 drop and a 4 drop isn’t worth a card.
This is a hard card to make work, as it’s inherently card disadvantage unless you have disposable bodies and Black only really has one of those in Elderfang Disciple. If you can cast it on an empty board, it does work, but it’s a rare circumstance in limited. Instant speed is a big help for this ability as it it opens the windows where you get to find a good time to cast it. Foretell is also another way to use your mana without contributing to the board while gaining the discounts later, so you can set up around this card quite well. Still, it’s only cirumstantially good and you do need to find the right time so it can’t really earn more than a C, but a % of decks will want this.
Valki, God of Lies
Valki is a combination of two really powerful effects, since there are almost always creatures to take in Limited, so his 2 mana mode will almost always hit. Being able to become a copy of that creature can be a powerful and swingy effect, though it’s expensive. It’s a solid disruptive 2 drop you’d be happy to play even without the other mode.
Late in the game, Tibalt is extremely busted, and I would almost always splash him even if I wasn’t actually Rakdos – preferably I’m Golgari and can ramp up to him, since 7 mana is a lot (but it’s so worth it). You immediately get a 2 for 1, since he comes down and exiles their best creature then you can play it next turn even if they kill him, and his + will end the game in short order if they don’t.
Without the Tibalt half, this is still a strong B, taking likely a strong card from your opponent and eventually becoming a copy unless your opponent uses precious removal on your two drop. And a resolved Tibalt will win more or less every game you cast him in, as even if he dies on cast, you can still re-cast the best creature on the board next turn. It’s only just shy of an S down to its Rakdos colours, but realistically you’re never going to pass this card.
Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire
Varragoth is a powerful card that they’ll almost always want to remove, since it Vampiric Tutors the best card on top of your library. It’s not card advantage, rather it just really improves your card quality. It might not be absolutely devastating, since you might not have a bomb to get, but they aren’t going to want to take the risk. Having deathtouch on a 2/3 body makes it quite hard to block, and its effect is cheap – the sequence that will often occur is you’ll put a removal spell or something that lets you get another attack in on top, and until they remove it, you just stack your deck every turn (and you can blank removal if you get a counterspell or a way to recur it). It’s not quite so good if you’re being beaten down, since it’s a lot of mana to spend on something that doesn’t improve your board position, and that’s really its main weakness, but usually it will absolutely demand a removal spell.
Deathtouch is great here as, if you really need a card, you’ll always be able to at least offer a trade with something. Putting it on top does mean you need to be able to plan ahead, and it’ll feel very bad when you put something on top that’s no longer relevant a turn later but you’re forced to draw it – but being able to set up to draw the best card in your deck each turn for two mana will take over enough games. You just have to make sure the rest of your deck is strong enough to be worth searching for or Varragoth won’t save you from that. One attack can set up the win and force your opponent to find some way to block even at a disadvantage and if you make it to two attacks that should seal the deal.
Vampire Hastehawk is a solid card, whether you Foretell it or not – this is a great statline that puts immediate pressure on, and you can just trade off with it once they play something you can’t otherwise deal with, after you’ve done 6 damage or whatever. No lifelink makes this sort of card a lot worse than actual Nighthawk, but they’re still going to fear the Reaper!
This is a great combination of four abilities – 2 power is a little low for a 4 mana flier but deathtouch and haste make up for the shortfall, especially if it comes out on turn three. Often you won’t be bothering with the foretell on this, but the flexibility is literally always good.
I don’t think the good cases for Village Rites come up enough in a set without much fodder to sacrifice (especially repeatable fodder like Sanitarium Skeleton would be nice) – it just doesn’t happen often enough that they point a removal spell at one of your things and you have 1 mana up, so that’s a fine secondary case, but you really need a lot of Elderfang Disciples, other token producers, or cards like Shackles of Treachery (which is unplayable in most decks, so you better have a few of these) to make this worth it. There aren’t a ton of disposable tokens in the set, but I do think it’s worth it if you have 3-4 fodder cards. Rites has some synergy with “exile a creature card from your graveyard” cards, but it’s not worth sacrificing a real creature to set those up mostly.
I am a bit more happy to play this card here than in most sets, because a lot of the removal is enchantment-based and this interacts very well against that, but I still foresee cutting it half the time.
Black has less disposable cards in this set than it may normally, but Elderfang Disciple get’s along very well with this card – and with both Blue, White and Black all having good removal that leaves a creature on board you’ll often be able to make use of your first copy.
This isn’t a removal spell you should expect to cast before turn 4 or so, but it stays good at any point in the game. Being a sorcery is a bit rough, since you won’t be able to shrink bigger creatures and eat them in combat, but this is an efficient card you’ll be happy to have 1-2 of (though there is a severe case of diminishing returns, since they work off the same resource). If you do happen to be in Golgari and have self-mill, or running multiple copies of Koma’s Faithful, then sure, do take the second copy higher.
This card will be frustratingly impossible to cast when you need it, as creatures don’t always hit the graveyard on time without forcing a chump block from you, but the rate at one mana is hard to argue with. These compete for slots in your deck with each other and multiples in hand could spell disaster, but the rate is efficient enough that it’s going to be worth the risk on the first and maybe even second copy, but I wouldn’t want more than that without ways to fill the graveyard (which this set isn’t full on.)
Withercrown is decent in a defensive deck, good if you’re targeting stuff without abilities, and pretty mediocre if either of those things is not the case. The fact that the creature can still block is a huge problem for beatdown decks, at least those without plenty of evasion sources, since it gives them the option of cashing in the creature for 4 or 5 life, or just taking their solid repeatable block (e.g. 0/3 on 2/2) for as long as it’s relevant.
When you do run into Village Rites or an equipment or some other way to make use the body, it’s going to be pretty rough, and there are plenty of those in the set. This is a card I’m happy to play 1-2 of in my defensive decks, and only if I’m desperate in my beatdown decks.
A much more permanent form of stab wound while all the more emphemeral at the same time. Some creatures toughness might be big enough that they can still block well enough with this around, but at least it hurts them each turn for the privilege. Giving your opponent the choice of when to sacrifice does make this a fair bit worse as you’re never getting the best end of the deal, but I think at two mana this is going to be impressive enough most of the time and do what you want.
If you are the slower deck in the matchup this will deal with 95% of what you care about in opposing creatures (and black does have other removal for things with pesky activated or triggered abilities), and it is better in these decks. However the 1 life cost means if you’re the aggressor in a matchup, even if it leaves them a blocker it’s still contributes towards your gameplan. It might still be a C+ in that deck instead but on average I am still happy with B.
Black’s role in this set seems to mainly be as a support colour, since it has a lot of disparate elements and synergies, and some really powerful removal spells. Thanks to being spread a bit thin, I think it will require support from whatever colour those synergies best fit into – for example, if we look at the second spell per turn mechanic, White has more common payoffs and more Foretell cards as enablers, while Black provides some solid support but isn’t as directly invested. Still, Black’s overall common power level is quite high, and it’s not like you’ll be sad to play its good cards even if you don’t have direct synergy. I suspect drafting Black in pack 1 will be sort of a mixed bag, and then you’ll be able to see what’s open based on what’s wheeling, or you’ll open more direction in the early picks of pack 2, and from there you’ll be able to decide what combination best befits your picks. I think the best combinations for Black are likely to be Green and White, since they have the most direct synergy, but I would never advise people to pigeonhole themselves into certain colour pairs at the start of a format nonetheless – check out my article on signals and staying open for more info!
Black’s commons do present a couple of clear directions to go into outside colour pairs – the first is that I think it has the tools for a fine beatdown deck, incorporating cards like Deathknell Berserker, Infernal Pet, and Karfel Kennel-Master, and using cards like Dogged Pursuit to finish them off. The second is that several of Black’s cards seem to promote a grindy attrition strategy, using cards like Skull Raid, Elderfang Disciple, and Jarl of the Forsaken alongside all the removal it has to grind them to dust. I suspect these won’t be decks unto themselves so much as form a plan that incorporates and builds around the set mechanics though – the former strategy seems like it could fit quite well into an Orzhov second spell deck, and the latter into a Golgari or Dimir snow deck for example.
Oddly enough, a lot of the removal in Black and in the set as large is comprised of cards you’d be happy to have 1-2 copies of, but you don’t really want to load up on, which is a dynamic I kind of like, since it leads to more removal being passed and more decisions to make later in each pack. Overall, I’m pretty excited to draft Black, it seems like it’ll encourage and reward some pretty intricate drafting decisions!
It’s no surprise that when we come to black the best commons are all removal spells, with B+ for Feed the Serpent, B for Weigh Down, and a B- for Withercrown, and getting three good ones in the set is above average so you should have no shortage in being able to deal with threats. Only Feed is superb, no matter how many copies you get, as the rest don’t stack as well. Beyond that Black doesn’t fall behind afterwards with a strong amount of commons reaching the C+ range, meaning you can expect a plethora of options in black. These may drag you in a few different directions, and overall black looks well suited to support any other colour with its removal suite.
Black seems to have a little bit of everything with support for snow, boast, foretell, tribal synergies and double spelling that means although you will be fighting other black players at the table for the top three cards, the rest of the synergies are quite spread around meaning once you secure removal you’re more likely to get passed the rest. You really want to be using this to bolster a main theme that you can get elsewhere.
Overall Black’s power level is very strong across for board with only a few duds even if it’s lacking the most central theme itself.