I just returned from Pro Tour--Chicago, where I managed to grind in at the Last Chance Qualifier and then finish in 32nd place. Obviously I'm pretty happy about this, not only because of the money and the Venice qualification but also because, in a way, it validates that I do know what I'm talking about in these articles. I'd recommend that if you live near an upcoming Pro Tour, make the effort to drive out there and participate in the events. You never know what could happen.
Both the black-green and black-red archetypes had their place at the Pro Tour. Kai Budde won the final draft and took home the title with black-red. Black-green was the second most sought after deck and might have had the best record on the weekend, at least for the CMU-TOGIT people who drafted it.
When To Draft Black
Due to the need for removal in this format, black and red often have to shoulder the burden of supporting four drafters each. Red can usually support this given its strong removal and many playable morph creatures, but black has a little more trouble. Don't count on black providing the bulk of your deck unless you end up being behind multiple red drafters.
Third or fourth pick Nantuko Husk or Cruel Revival is a signal for black, or second pick with a common missing is fine. Insane rares, as always, mean you probably should draft the color. The bomb OnslaughtTM black rares are: Death Match, Grinning Demon, Oversold Cemetery, Rotlung Reanimator, Silent Specter, and Visara the Dreadful. Entrails Feaster is extremely strong for an investment of only one mana. Doomed Necromancer, Endemic Plague, and Undead Gladiator are also fine cards.
Underrated Black Cards
Black has quite a few interesting rares that are more powerful than people initially realized. Other than that, the cards below are situational and usually belong in the sideboard, but can be brought in during specific circumstances. In addition to the ones listed below, remember that Profane Prayers
and Misery Charm
are useful to have in your sideboard in case you end up facing a cleric deck.
The undervalued cards that I've noticed recently are:
- Chain of Smog--This card is quite good when going first. You're already down a card, and you're usually going to have one more permanent on the table. It's rare that your opponent can afford to send it back at you, so usually you end up with a quick two for one. If your opponent does decide to send it back on turn two, it's almost always okay to go ahead and chain it back and forth until both of you have empty hands. Your opponent will draw first but you'll have an extra land on the table, which gives you the advantage. Often I'll leave this card in the sideboard but bring it in if I've lost the first game.
- Cover of Darkness--I've seen people pass this card in numerous situations, some of which I agreed with, but many of which I didn't. It costs two mana, which means it fits in a slot where you won't often be dropping a creature, and it absolutely devastates non-black decks. Even against black decks it is quite good, as black creatures aren't usually efficient blockers and the preponderance of morphing creatures in this set makes fear better than it would otherwise be. Try to draft your deck more tribally than you otherwise would (generally zombies or beasts) once you have this card.
- Death Match--I cannot stress enough just how powerful this card is in black-green. The card itself completely changes the rules of the game, with activated abilities becoming almost irrelevant and the main consideration being whether or not the toughness of a given creature is more than three. Green fulfills this beautifully with Barkhide Mauler, Treespring Lorian, and Krosan Tusker all surviving a single Death Match hit. In addition, Symbiotic Elf becomes a landmine under Death Match, giving out a combined -6/-6 when destroyed. Keep in mind that you can have the Symbiotic Elf set itself off when it comes into play, immediately destroying two small opposing creatures or one large one. Vitality Charm is an instant speed -3/-3, Aphetto Dredging becomes ridiculous, while removal spells are terribly inefficient. If you get this early in a draft, force black-green and pick creatures higher than you otherwise would, although keep it reasonable as you still have to win even when you don't draw the Death Match. Team CMU has a lot of fun when this card is in play, as we tend to knock on our decks and yell "Come on Flametongue, one time for Flametongue!"
- Oversold Cemetery--Twice at Pro Tour--Chicago I saw this card get passed by multiple players drafting black, which I found absolutely crazy. The Cemetery almost guarantees wins in the long game, gives near immunity to mass removal, and combos beautifully with Nantuko Husk. Draft cycling creatures higher than you otherwise would, as a high count will allow you to fill your graveyard almost immediately and then start drawing two cards a turn once you've fulfilled the requirement. Disciple of Grace and Disciple of Malice work beautifully for this as you can pick them up late.
- Patriarch's Bidding--Very situational, but it can be strong in black-green with Barkhide Maulers and Krosan Tuskers. You can also set it up by chump blocking or trading with large beasts that you played face down. Retrieving three beasts on turn five or six will almost always spell game over for your opponent.
- Shade's Breath--The Breath is only good in black-heavy decks with at least ten or eleven swamps. In those decks, it is a strong trick that can be used to straight out beat your opponent or just selectively pump creatures that are in combat. It is essentially a weaker but more flexible Tribal Unity.
- Withering Hex--I say this not because the Hex is a good card (far from it), but because not many people realize that it can be worth siding in. When a removal-light but cycling-heavy deck is facing a utility deck with multiple Wellwishers or Sparksmiths, it can be worth siding one or two of these in. I have actually won a game by destroying an Ascending Aven that was going to finish me; although that's the only time I've tried this card. Just don't discount it.
Black-White And Black-Blue
Refer to the articles about drafting white
and drafting blue
for thoughts on these archetypes.
At Chicago, black-green was almost as sought after as blue-red, and it's an archetype that I ended up drafting three times. Unfortunately, the one draft I didn't pursue it in was the one in which I opened Silklash Spider
and Visara the Dreadful
and was passed Death Match
and Oversold Cemetery
, but what can you do? Black-green contains all sorts of synergy, combining black's strong early game with green's beasts in the late game. It's main weakness is fliers, but other decks have to manage to stall the ground before their fliers can safely attack for the win--and therein lies the solution. Few decks can stand up to a curve of Wretched Anurid
, Nantuko Husk
, Snarling Undorak
(or Symbiotic Elf
), and then Barkhide Mauler
. So, that's game.
Key cards for this archetype include:
- Nantuko Husk--It must be no coincidence that Nantuko Husk is a zombie insect, because it loves its sibling insects like no other. The more creatures on your side of the board, the happier the Nantuko Husk. It generally survives mass removal, grows to "must be blocked" status quickly, and is almost impenetrable on defense. Brings back memories of Psychatog...
- Symbiotic Elf--This is included almost solely because of its relationship with Nantuko Husk. Turn three Nantuko Husk, turn four Symbiotic Elf immediately creates a creature that is capable of growing to 8/8. With the Symbiotic Beast, things get even sillier.
- Dirge of Dread--A black-green deck is capable of pumping out a lot of ground offense quickly. Dirge of Dread is the best way to finish off most opponents, with the additional possibility of cycling it early in the game for various reasons. I will rarely ever cut one of these from my deck.
- Infest--This card is awesome in black-green, as Nantuko Husk and all the beasts will survive it. You can usually get at least three for one with this card against unsuspecting opponents.
- Death Match--I talked about this card in the underrated cards section, but let me reiterate that this card is absolutely ridiculous in black-green. I had one deck at Pro Tour--Chicago that won every game when I drew this card and lost every game when I didn't.
- Cruel Revival--The only removal spell in the format that manages to destroy almost anything, including all the bombs, while retrieving a Festering Goblin or Nantuko Husk. This will always be in contention as a first pick and will always be welcome in your deck.
I don't have much more to say about this archetype other than that you should make some zombies and some beasts, then attack until your opponent is finished. If you don't have zombies, substitute elves and just use black for the removal and Dirge of Dread.
Some call the black-red archetype greedy, as players drafting it will almost always cause ripples in the structure of a draft. In booster draft, the person drafting black-red will likely just have to settle for fighting with the people to either side for one color or the other, unless he or she manages to end up behind the rare player drafting white-blue. In Rochester draft, the presence of someone drafting black-red will sometimes force another player into green-white or white-blue, but more often everyone will just fight for the removal cards.
While this archetype is fairly risky, it certainly can be powerful. Fast beats followed up by plentiful removal is just as good, or maybe better than it has always been. There are no damage prevention cards in the common slot, and certainly nothing that will two for one you like Embolden or Shelter. The only card that you really have to worry about is Crown of Awe, or occasionally Meddle.
Key cards for this archetype include:
- Shepherd of Rot--The Shepherd allows you to change the rules of the game, this time by essentially starting both players off at a lower life total. Have you ever wondered how different a Magic game would be if the players started at 15 life, or maybe even 10? Games where this creature survives for a while are a good approximation. The Shepherd makes games short and sweet, just how the black-red deck likes them.
- Searing Flesh--Another life-altering effect, only this one effectively starts your opponent at 13 life while leaving 20 for you. The nice thing about Searing Flesh is that, unlike the Shepherd, your opponents don't see it coming so they don't know to play around it. It's quite expensive, but a great finisher.
- Sparksmith--As always, Sparksmith will win the game if not dealt with. Black-red has Festering Goblin as well as all the red goblins, but having them as the only creatures on the table is a little dangerous due to the Festering Goblin's ability.
- Wretched Anurid--It's very hard to stop a 3/3 when most of your creatures are being removed. Black-red should have a lot of ways to stop both Riptide Biologist and Disciple of Grace, so the only thing you need to worry about is Pacifism. The life loss should be a negligible factor, especially when going first.
- Severed Legion--The Legion combos well with Shepherd of Rot, as it increases the effectiveness of the Shepherd's ability and also puts you ahead on life by attacking. Its value has fallen a little bit due to more people drafting black, but again there are few black creatures that can block the Legion and not be destroyed.
- Nantuko Husk--The best possible three-drop, this creature puts all sorts of pressure on your opponent. Combine with Frightshroud Courier for best results.
If the black and red cards are coming, don't hesitate to draft them. This color combination can create some strong decks, but be wary of coming up short on cards. Both colors are in extremely heavy demand.
Next time I'll finish up with a discussion of both red and green, as well as the combination of the two in the red-green archetype.
Yegg on Magic Online