Monday, September 18, 2017

Ixalan - Black

Ixalan Set Review: White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Multicolor & Artifacts
Ixalan Videos: White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Multicolor & Artifacts | Rares Part 1 | Rares Part 2

Please read my disclaimer before jumping into my evaluations!

Brief overview:
3 common removal spells (Skulduggery, Vanquish the Weak, Contract Killing) 2 uncommon removal spells (Walk the Plank, Dark Nourishment)
1 common combat trick (Skulduggery)
Not much raid in black! 1 creature with raid (Deadeye Tormentor), 1 sorcery, 1 enchantment also with raid
Black has 2 common treasure cards (Dire Fleet Hoarder, Contract Killing), 2 uncommon (Ruthless Knave, Heartless Pillage)

Blight Keeper – This might be one of the worst of the 1-drop cycle. The only reason to play this card is to enable Raid early. That said, Black doesn’t have any good Raid cards other than Deadeye Tormentor.

Skittering Heartstopper – This card is better than Blight Keeper. There isn’t really much Deathtouch in this set, and this little guy will help block dinosaurs. Might play 1, but more likely to bring them in from the sideboard against RG or GW dinosaur decks. Also, importantly, this guy will almost always trigger raid. Your opponents aren’t going to want to trade creatures off with your 1-drop.

Desperate Castaways – The best way to get this guy attacking is by loading up on treasure pirates (Sailor of Means, Dire Fleet Hoarder). However, it’s not going to be that often that you’re able to turn him on by t3, as the cards that generate treasure cards tend to be slower, lower powered, higher cmc. So I’d caution putting this card in your aggressive decks with the expectation that he’s going to be attacking early. Still 2/3 is a great rate for 2 mana, so I’ll be putting him in my mid-range and slower decks.

Dire Fleet Hoarder – Treasure is a tempo-gain, it lets you cast more expensive spells (or two spells) more quickly. If you’re able to trade this off with one of your opponent’s creatures while getting value out of that tempo gain, you’re going to be pretty happy. This card is going in all of my black decks.

Queen’s Bay Soldier – Stop the presses, a vanilla 2/2 for 2cmc. I would rather find better 2-drops to put in my WB Vampire deck.

Deadeye Tormentor – We had this card in Khans, albeit as a 2/1 for 2 mana. That card, Mardu Skullhunter, was solid. This card is slightly weaker but will still see play in UB and BR pirates. (Note: this is the only Black creature with raid.) I wouldn’t pick it that highly though.

Skymarch Bloodletter – This is probably one of the better vampires at common. Pair this with Vampire’s Zeal, and this guy is gonna own the skies. Again, I won’t pick it highly but I would be happy to see it come in the middle of a pack.

Dire Fleet Interloper – 4 mana for a 3/3 menace, ETB scry 1, or 2/2 menace, ETB search for a random land in your deck and put it in your hand. Not bad, not great: not a low floor but also not a high ceiling.

Fathom Fleet Cutthroat – This is my favorite Black card in the set. This card enables so much play. For example, if you have this in your hand, you happily attack your 2/2 2-drops into your opponent’s 4/4 4-drop: it effectively gives one of your 2/2s, “sac: destroy target blocker.” More importantly, after people become more familiar with the set, it is going to allow you to bluff attacks! This is crucial game play for pushing through damage and winning races. If you really want to next level, if you happen to play against some pros at a pre-release or at GP Providence, go ahead and attack with your Deadeye Tormentor into their dinosaurs. Your pro opponent will know about this card and will likely assume that you wouldn’t have made that attack unless you had this 4-drop in your hand (the pro might believe that it is unlikely that you made this bluff, thinking that a casual or unknown player might not know the set well enough.) I’m taking these and I’m putting them all in my deck.

Anointed Deacon – So far, for Vampire synergies, we’ve seen Duskbourne Skymarcher and Vampire’s Zeal. That’s it! That said, this card is pretty powerful with Duskbourne Skymarcher (or Skyblade of the Legion, or even Bishop’s Soldier). It allows your weaker vampires to trade up, and you’re probably going to have more vampires than your opponent is going to have pirates, dinosaurs, or merfolk. Worst case scenario, this card can target itself and swing as a 5/3. While that’s not that great, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be competing for this card with other B drafters (unless they are also playing Vampires), so you should be able to easily pick up one or two of these during the draft if you want it.

Queen’s Agent – 6 mana is a lot to pay for a 4/4 lifelink, ETB scry 1, or 3/3 lifelink, ETB get a random land in your hand. At 6 mana, you’re not really going to be needing that 7th land. Probably looking to find better cards to put in my deck than this.

Vicious Conquistador – The best thing I can about this card is that it helps to trigger raid. Besides that, a 1/2 for 1 cmc is going to become irrelevant very quickly as both players develop their boards.

Kitesail Freebooter – No, this card does not take creatures. Despite that, I’m still happy to put this in my deck. While Black doesn’t have that many raid cards, it is going to be paired with Blue and Red, which do. This card is great for enabling early raid.

Seekers’ Squire – 2 mana for a 2/3 ETB scry 1 or a 1/2 ETB get a random basic land and put it in your hand? Yes please. Despite not having any synergies with vampires or pirates, I’ll almost surely be putting this in all of my black decks. At 2 mana, this card is the best Explore creature for smoothing out your early game.

Wanted Scoundrels – Ixalan’s version of Bloodrage Brawler. I’m really not sure how I feel about this card. While the removal is pretty bad in this set, there are plenty of 3 powered 3-drops that your opponent will happily throw in front of this creature. Two treasure is a huge swing. I could see this card being fine in an aggressive deck, or just unplayably bad.

Ruthless Knave – As a 3/2 pirate for 3 mana, this card is fine based on its stats alone. Being able to sacrifice a creature to create treasure is a powerful effect. If you’re in the late game, and you’re both top-decking, you can sacrifice the treasures to draw more cards. If you’re in the midgame, looking to cast your more expensive cards, you can use the treasures as mana. I will note, however, that there is only one Enchantment effect removal spell (Pious Interdiction). You won’t be able to sacrifice the creature after it was exiled with Ixalan’s Binding, and there are no blue Claustrophobia/Narcolepsy-type cards. And it’s a bit expensive to try to hold up 3 mana in anticipation of a removal spell. Don’t forget that you can sacrifice this guy to himself!

Lurking Chupacabra – So GB doesn’t have a readily apparent archetype. While there is a GB mythic card (Vraska, she’s great), there aren’t any uncommon GB gold cards. If I had to guess, GB is going to be a value-based deck oriented around the Explore mechanic. This card, and the Green Wildgrowth Walker, are going to be the best two cards that synergize with Explore. However, be sure to have a lot of Explore creatures if you’re looking to play Lurking Chupacabra: a 2/3 for 4 mana is a pretty poor rate.

Bishop of the Bloodstained – Gary the Grey Merchant for Vampires. No one other than the Vampire drafters are going to want to take this card. This is probably the best synergy card for Vampires, especially when paired with Queen’s Commission or Call to the Feast.

Deathless Ancient – Here’s the fifth (and final) common/uncommon vampire synergy card. The effect is powerful, it’s a recurring giant flying threat, but you’re paying a premium price at 6 mana. I’m probably not that interested in playing this card unless I’m in the WB Vampires archetype.

Skulduggery – Like Slash of Talons, this card has a large range of outcomes: it could be very powerful if you’re able to kill two creatures with it in combat, but there are also going to be times when this card is dead. I’ll probably start off by putting 1 of these in my decks.

Vanquish the Weak – Complete Disregard in Ixalan. That card was powerful and picked somewhat highly in a format that emphasized massive Eldrazi monsters (though you don’t get to process any exiled cards in Ixalan). In this set, there are plenty of targets at 3 cmc or less.

Contract Killing – Unconditional removal is always good. This card has the additional benefit of temporarily ramping you 2 mana. Often, the drawback of a 5cmc unconditional removal spell in black is that it is often a tempo loss: you usually have to take the entire turn off to kill something. With this card, while you might take a turn off, you’ll likely be able to cast two spells the following turn, which is a tempo gain.

Walk the Plank – Maybe the best uncommon/common in the set. Effectively unconditional removal (though the non-Merfolk clause is going to come up in a non-trivial percentage of your games). I have this slightly ahead of Lightning Strike, if only because there is an emphasis on large dinosaurs in Ixalan. Put as many as you can find into your deck.

Dark Nourishment – It seems a bit strange to have a black spell deal damage to a player. This card is fine, and it’s going to lead to some game-swinging plays. I’ll play up to two of them in my main.

Duress – Sideboard card. Take notes about what spells your opponent plays, so you can get a sense of whether you should bring it in. There is no clear-cut “spells” deck, most of the decks are creature-based, so there might not be that many times when it’s obvious to bring it in. Except, perhaps, when you see some of the bomb planeswalkers that you otherwise have a hard time dealing with.

March of the Drowned – Given that my overall thesis about Ixalan has been that the games will likely often be value-based, slow, and attrition battles, this card should see a reasonable amount of play. Of course, I’m not going to play this unless I’m playing Pirates. Further, there aren’t too many ways to get Pirates in the graveyard other than having them killed on the battlefield, so I’d caution against going too overboard with cards like this.

Costly Plunder – I’m usually not that interested in playing Altar’s Reap -type cards, but this card lets you sacrifice artifacts. If I have enough ways to produce treasure, then I might consider adding this card to my deck. I’ll also play this if I have Captivating Crew and Hijack in my deck as well (sacrificing one of their creatures to draw 2 cards, yes please!)

Mark of the Vampire – I’m not playing this card unless my opponent doesn’t have any removal. And they always have SOME removal.

Spreading Rot – I’m also not playing this card. WOTC always needs to print a land destruction card in each set, so here it is in Ixalan.

Grim Captain’s Call – This card requires you to make some fairly restrictive deck-building decisions. Ordinarily, you want to fill your pirate synergy deck with pirates. This card asks you to put dinosaurs, merfolk and vampire in your deck as well, which weakens the synergies you would have otherwise had. I don’t really see myself playing this card that much at all in this format. Maybe I’ll bring it in for attrition battles.

Heartless Pillage – The format has to be pretty grindy for me to want to put Mind Rot in my main deck. Playing Mind Rot is almost always a tempo loss: you’re not impacting the board, you’re not increasing the clock. But the treasure aspect of this card tries to mitigate that loss, as you might be able to play two spells or a big creature the following turn. That said, it might not always be easy to trigger raid: in the early game, you’re not going to be able to cast a pump spell or a removal spell to clear the way for your creatures, and this card doesn’t help in any way with clearing their road blocks. Pair this with fliers.

Raiders’ Wake – In order to get the benefit of this card, you need to be able to trigger Raid. But this card doesn’t impact the board, it doesn’t create a creature, it doesn’t remove a creature. So there are going to be times when you cast this, and it’s just going to sit there. It doesn’t bring you back into the game, it’s only really good when you’re at parity or when you’re ahead. That said, when this card is good, it is very good. I probably won’t be playing this card in my main deck at the start of Ixalan.

Quick recap: Black looks fairly strong. Good removal, good attrition cards. I expect UB Pirates (splashing red) to be a top archetype. Beware BW Vampires; I think the archetype is weak and I’ll only want to be in it if I’m the only vampires drafter at the table.

Black cards to draft early: Walk the Plank, Vanquish the Weak, Fathom Fleet Cutthroat, Seekers’ Squire.

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