Oath of the Gatewatch Limited Set Review: Black
10.0: A card that earns a ten is unbeatable, or close to it. In a well designed set, there won’t be any cards that warrant this score, as they “break” the format.
9.0-9.9: These are bombs. If you see one, you’re going to take it, and you’re probably going to splash for it, mana costs be damned.
8.0-8.9: This range is for exceptional cards. You won’t go out of your way to play them, but they offer great value. Efficient removal spells end up in this range.
7.0-7.9: Cards that fall here are the upper band of playables–that is to say, above replacement level, but not necessarily exciting (some could be, I guess).
6.0-6.9: This is probably the most common score. These cards aren’t great, but they make up the majority of Limited decks.
5.0-5.9: These are cards you’ll end up playing, but are below replacement level. You may be disappointed running these in the main deck, but you could be doing worse.
4.0-4.9: These are cards to avoid. You’ll occasionally be forced into a scenario where you have to play one, but you will be actively unhappy.
3.0-3.9: When an opponent plays cards with this score, I’ll actually be pretty happy.
2.0-2.9: … what are you even doing at this point?
1.0-1.9: If these cards are in your deck, your deck is a disaster. Something went very, very wrong along the way.
0.0-0.9: These cards should be burned in a dumpster fire, probably along with their designers. Just kidding, we love you WotC employees.
Inverter of Truth
Inverter of Truth isn’t as abusable in Limited as he is in Constructed, but then again, he’s a 6/6 flier for four mana. The drawback is actually a drawback in Limited, since you can’t easily curve into him without decking yourself. That being said, once you get into the mid or late game, Inverter of Truth is not only an efficiently costed, evasive threat, but his “drawback” could even become an upside. Regardless, this card is a long shot from being completely insane.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
So yeah, Kalitas is pretty much a bomb. 3/4 Lifelink for four mana? Awesome, that’s pretty great on its own. Graveyard hate? Eh, not super useful in this format, but still useful I guess. Getting a 2/2 creature every time an opponent’s creature dies? That’s a pretty great effect, especially in black, where you have spot removal. Sacrificing those creatures to grow Kalitas? Man does this card have any abilities that aren’t powerful? No, it really doesn’t. It’s ceiling is exceptionally high and it’s floor really isn’t even all that low.
Bearer of Silence
Oh hey, it’s Gatekeeper of Malakir. Well, sort of. It’s removal on a stick, but your opponent gets to choose which creature to sacrifice. Most of the time, they’ll just throw away their worst creature, but at least you got some value. The floor is pretty high on Bearer of Silence, actually. At worst, you’re getting a 2/1 with Flying that can’t block. Those aren’t the best stats, but Black decks would probably play that card in Limited. The fact that for two additional mana you get a 2-for-1 easily makes this card playable. Now, it does require both a Colorless source and a Black source to do that, but a well constructed mana base in this format should be able to do that.
Drana’s Chosen on her own is surprisingly powerful. She’s a 2/2 for four, which is obviously way behind curve, but she also puts 2/2 zombies on the board. Obviously, there is a setup cost–not only does she have to be tapped, but you also have to have an additional Ally to tap. Now, this is not necessarily as bad as it may seem in Limited. Of course, you have to find the deck for it, but Black/White Allies is certainly a solid deck in the format. Drana’s Chosen doesn’t go in the more traditional, aggressive Ally decks, but if your strategy revolves around grinding your opponent out, then Drana’s Chosen is the card that you want.
“Oh, you killed my guy? Well, joke’s on you, he gets to hit you one more time.” Being able to say that to your opponent has to feel pretty great, especially when it’s stapled onto a 6/8. Now, without colorless mana sources, it’s just a 6/8 for seven, which is mediocre considering that it’s just worse than Ruin Processor in that scenario. But, this activated ability justifies having a few colorless sources in your deck.
Remorseless Punishment could end up being surprisingly good. In a format with Eldrazi Scions and some kind of random creatures, you’re likely not going to get too much value for five mana, giving the card a very low floor. But the ceiling is insane–half your opponent’s life total, five life points and an impactful creature, removing two creatures, removing a creature and a Planeswalker. I realize that this is falling into the trap of BCSM, but I think in most cases it will get closer to its ceiling than its floor. That said, the amount of variance makes this card something of a trap, so you really just need to be wary.
Sifter of Skulls
The one downside that Sifter of Skulls has is that its triggered ability only applies to other creatures–opponents can kill the Sifter itself without having to worry about it replacing itself. That said, having an insurance plan on the rest of your board is valuable, especially in combat, since trading suddenly becomes net positive for you (most of the time). On top of all that, Sifter of Skulls doesn’t require Colorless mana, which seems to be a popular drawback for powerful cards in this format. This is a card you’ll be happy to first pick in the majority of cases.
Essence Depleter has both a solid body and a decent activated ability. You will need access to Colorless mana in order to activate that ability, of course, but when you do, it’s pretty good. It can definitely win games on its own, especially in a board stall. However, it’s important because it enables the lifegain deck. With only one pack of BfZ, Kalastria Healers will be sorely lacking, and this is the type of card that will take its place to ensure that those synergies are still viable.
Flaying Tendrils is not necessarily a card you want to have in your starting 40. Against some decks, it simply won’t do enough–and could set you back more than it gets you ahead. That being said, against decks with a bunch of small creatures, Flaying Tendrils truly shines. The card is excellent in this scenario, as it can act as a one-sided Wrath of God. Now, that deck doesn’t necessarily exist in this format, but it’s not implausible for someone to put it together.
Grasp of Darkness
Grasp of Darkness is excellent. -4/-4 for just two mana, at Instant speed, is incredible, especially considering that his has been a four or even five mana effect in the past. Grasp of Darkness does cost double Black, but that’s not necessarily bad. It does make it harder to splash, but the mana seems pretty good in this format, so you don’t necessarily have to be base Black to play this card. Obviously, it doesn’t hit any of the huge creatures, but those are fewer and further between now than they were in BfZ. Grasp of Darkness kills a large number of the format’s best threats, and as a result is likely to be a high pick.
Havoc Sower is an Ok card at best. Sure, it can hit for five, but that requires a continual mana investment every turn, and a 3/3 for four isn’t great value. The lack of evasion also really hurts. Sure, you can pump two mana into it every turn, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ever going to get through. It’s not bad, and Black decks will probably want it more often than not, but it certainly isn’t exciting.
Tapping two creatures to draw a card at the cost of one life is a decent effect. It’s not necessarily something you’ll be using early, but for games that go late, Malakir Soothsayer becomes a pretty insane engine. It laughs at board stalls, and if you get it and another Ally down when you’re behind, clawing your way back to parity becomes less difficult. It also completely drowns opponents that are slipping behind. Plus, the 4/4 body is pretty sizeable, and five mana for that body plus the Soothsayer’s Cohort ability makes for a great creature.
Null Caller is a pretty solid mana sink. Creatures are going to die in Limited, and in most cases that will result in them going to the graveyard. Since there’s not a ton of graveyard synergies in this Limited format, Null Caller turns it into a resource that it wouldn’t otherwise be. Four mana is a pretty steep rate to pay for 2/2’s, but you’re basically getting those 2/2’s for free–it’s not like you’re playing a bunch of vanilla 2/2’s for four in your deck. Null Caller’s body is decent as well. 2/4’s block well, and aren’t the worst attackers, so while four mana is far from a bargain, it’s definitely a cost worth paying for this creature.
In this format, 2/1’s for one aren’t exactly what you want to be doing in Black. They get turned off pretty quickly (potentially before they can even attack), and this one even has a downside. Sure, losing a life isn’t a big deal, and you can just drop another colorless creature and eliminate that downside entirely. Regardless, it’s still a downside, and this just isn’t a card you’ll really want to be playing in this format.
Visions of Brutality
So Visions of Brutality is kind of like removal. It prevents a creature from blocking, which is decent when you’re getting aggressive. It also gives the creature inverse Lifelink, which is incentive not to attack, but not enough to completely deter attacks from opponent’s creatures. Now, it doesn’t have to be damage to players, it could just be damage to creatures blocking it, which actually makes this card a lot better. At two mana, you’ll likely play Visions of Brutality on occasion. It doesn’t do much when you’re on the backfoot, but it can help in a board stall, and when you’re ahead, it does help you to get even further ahead. However, it’s definitely not an early pick.
Corpse Churn is decent. It can regrow a creature at Instant speed, which is fine, especially since it returns the creature to your hand rather than the top of the deck, like, say Gravepurge. Milling yourself is probably mostly downside in this format, but there are a couple ways to take advantage of it, such as Null Carver and Baloth Null. Even then, mostly downside. Corpse Churn isn’t great, but it could occasionally come in from the sideboard, and it’s a card you’ll be forced to play from time to time and not be too unhappy about.
A 3/2 for three is decent. Slightly below curve, but decent, for sure. Kozilek’s Shrieker, however, is much better than just a 3/2. It’s activated ability is great, making it a four power attacker with Menace, which is a form of evasion. Even if you don’t have access to Colorless mana, running this card is far from a disaster. It’s vanilla stats are, as I said, perfectly acceptable, and in Black those stats may actually be a little bit ahead of the curve.
For a second, when I first read this card, I thought that WotC has decided a pseudo Channel reprint was, for some reason, acceptable. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who you talk to), Kozilek’s Translator is not Channel. However, it does fix your mana at relatively cost. A 3/5 for five is is decent, though below curve. In spite of the mediocre stats, you very well may need easy access to Colorless sources. The Translator doesn’t even need to tap, so it can attack, block, and still give you access to mana. All around a solid card.
I’m honestly surprised that Oblivion Strike isn’t an Uncommon. It Exiles a Creature for four mana, with no drawback. Exiling is still relevant in this format, though there is only one pack of BfZ. Regardless, it’s removal, which is the real reason you’re playing this card. More importantly, it’s pretty efficient. Sure, it’s no Doom Blade, but it’s significantly better than the Common Black removal spells that we’ve been forced to get used to over the past couple of years.
Sky Scourer has a lot of potential. In a dedicated Devoid deck, it can provide a sizeable threat in the air. Sure, you’re unlikely to cast multiple spells in a turn, but even casting one gives you a 2/2 flier, which isn’t the worst. Two mana is definitely not a bad rate, especially since the card is Black. Having base power of one is a little underwhelming, but since that can increase rapidly, trading it off for two points of toughness isn’t bad at all. It’s not the best card, but it’s one that Black decks with a Devoid theme will probably want one or two copies of.
Slaughter Drone is fine as a bear. If it had nothing else, it would be playable, though likely slightly below replacement level, especially in a set like this. However, the ability to gain Deathtouch at Instant speed is huge. Once you have a source of Colorless mana, threat of activation is likely enough to hold opponent’s creatures at bay, or even get in for a free attack or two with Slaughter Drone. It’s entirely likely that you won’t even need to spend the mana to give it Deathtouch until the midgame, and when you do, you’re probably trading up. What more could you ask for from a Common?
Tar Snare is decent removal. It doesn’t kill everything, and at three mana you would usually hope for -3/-3 or better. Still, it’s hard to be too upset about it, considering it is a Common, and it will be able to kill something. It’s certainly not the type of removal spell you want to prioritize picking up, but it’s definitely good enough to warrant taking mid-draft.
Unnatural Endurance is Ok as a combat trick. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Coat with Venom, from Dragons of Tarkir. It allows one of your creatures to kill a significantly larger creature and survive the encounter largely unscathed. At one mana, that’s pretty solid. It’s not exactly removal, but it’s close, I guess. All in all, I rather like the card and I think that it will turn out to actually be quite good.
Untamed Hunger is not the type of Aura that will make the cut. It does give a form of evasion, but the boost to stats is mediocre at three mana. It’s not quite worth exposing yourself to a 2-for-1, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever really want to play Untamed Hunger. In most cases, in fact, you’ll probably want to do your best to avoid playing it.
Vampire Envoy is an oddity. It’s a a 1/4 flier, traditionally something you’d want to leave back to block, that rewards you for attacking. Of course, the triggered ability is best used when paired with Cohort, since Vampire Envoy is an Ally. Honestly, though gaining one life may not seem all that impactful, it’s nice to get some upside for paying Cohort costs. Plus, it helps to enable lifegain synergies, which aren’t quite as prevalent as they were in triple BfZ, but will likely be important regardless.
Witness the End
Witness the End is garbage. Four mana for two cards and two life is worthless, especially since it isn’t impacting the board whatsoever. It’s probably slightly better than Mind Rot, but has Mind Rot ever really been that good in Limited? Mire’s Malice was solid in BfZ because it could make a creature, and combining that with a discard effect is actually pretty good. But Witness the End is certainly no Mire’s Malice, and it’s probably the worst of the Black commons.
Zulaport Chainmage is alright. It has decent stats for four mana, and it pairs those stats with a decent Cohort ability. Tapping two creatures to make an opponent lose two life isn’t incredible, but it does get the job done in a board stall. Most of the time, however, you’ll want to be attacking with the Chainmage, and it’s certainly not the worst creature to be beating down with.