This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series The Power of the Dark Side

By Phil, AKA BeltFed Weapon

 

 

The flavor text on Juzam Djinn is one of the more fitting summations for Black’s place in the color pie:

“Expect my visit when the darkness comes.  The night I think is best for hiding all.”       

 

This quote evokes a certain amount of menace regarding an unbridled power that does not play fairly and comes with a price once summoned.  It’s part of the reason Juzam was the best creature in the game for a long time, as his CMC was so good for a beefy 5/5 body with such a small additional cost in life each turn.  It also sums up Black as a color in the game of Magic.  

 

Beyond the tropes of evil, death, and decay (and various undead), Black really is the color that ask a player to shift their perspective and play a certain way, like paying life or sacrificing creatures.  Both are not very appealing to a new player, but they can be quite powerful when you’re destroying your opponents’ creatures, lands, hands, libraries, and graveyards.   

  

Today, Juzam Djinn has long been surpassed, as creatures have gotten amazingly better, but Black has not been left behind.  I believe it to be the second most powerful color, slightly trailing Blue.  The designers have been good to Black, making it more robust and flexible as time has gone on; ramp, instants, boardwipes, and new tutors all continue to be regularly printed in Black.  

 

As Commander is an eternal format, Black also benefits from the many color pie violations that Wizards has printed over the years. I will discuss these cards in Part 5.  In total, Black is a color that’s only getting stronger in Commander.  That fact alone is the primary reason why I find mono-Black decks to be a personally rich and gratifying Commander experience – juicy new cards are printed all the time and call out to me to be played.  The other reason is that Black does a few things that no other color can do well.  I enjoy these mechanics and delight in making them work.

 

An example of this is library destruction.  Even with the corner case of Supreme Inquisitor, no other color has ready-made spells like Sadistic Sacrament that can easily exile an opponent’s combo pieces from their deck in one fell swoop while also providing useful intel on their deck.  This may not be a tier one strategy for everyone, but with Black’s quality tutors, you often only need this one silver bullet to shut down some of the most degenerate combo pieces – and that’s pretty good if you ask me.

 

Beyond the debate of optimal construction of your 99, the visceral response I get from Sadistic Sacrament is really why I play the card – and it embodies why we all enjoy Commander.   It shouldn’t always be about raw power.  The groans I get when I use Sadistic Sacrament against past victims is great.  I received the same groans when I used to be allowed to play Braids, Cabal Minion in my 99.  The best, however, is when you cast Sadistic Sacrament against the uninitiated and observe their eyes bulge when they read the card and then see you used the kicker against them.  It literally makes the night.

 

Let’s continue with what Black excels at:

 

I) Specialty Land Ramp Package – Cabal Coffers and its ilk

 

This is the definitive package of the 10 best cards to ramp you in the hardest and most efficient way possible in mono-Black.  Six take up land slots and the top five are all that you really need  – at a cost of one true card slot in the deck.

 

 

Love it or hate it, Cabal Coffers is the best land in a mono-Black player’s deck, bar none.  The amount of mana that this one card can make is astounding on its own.  The coffers deeply cares about how many swamps you have and is a dead card with less than three out.  Hence, it goes hand-in-hand with your Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth (or someone else’s).  Once you add in Deserted Temple, Expedition Map, Sword of Feast and Famine, Thespian’s Stage, Vesuva, you have a serious ramp package that was mostly land slots and has some added flexibility and usefulness outside of just focusing on Cabal Coffers’ mana ramp.  

 

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx also falls into this category, as Black permanents naturally have more pips on them, boosting your overall devotion.  While you can’t copy it since it’s legendary, you can still untap it for great ramp effect.  In the right deck, Crypt of Agadeem can also shine, but it’s not quite as universal as it requires a critical mass of Black creatures in the graveyard.  I don’t recommend Lake of the Dead because you’ll eventually need the swamps you’re sacrificing to get the biggest mana boost – actively working against  the rest of your ramp package.

 

 

Honorable Mention :  Crypt of Agadeem, Petrified Field*, Crucible of Worlds*

* = denotes that this card has other uses than just how it is categorized

 

Disclaimer: despite the financial cost, Cabal Coffers and all the other direct support cards aside from Candelabra of Tawnos really are worth the money spent and the slots taken, as they can do more for you than just ramp.  Many of these cards are not as expensive as Cabal Coffers or the [/card]Sword of Feast or Famine[/card], but their prices will only go up.  If you want to run mono-Black or even Black and another color, you owe it to yourself to get at least one copy of Coffers and Urborg sooner rather than later.

 

II) Targeted Creature Removal

 

Black is well-known for excelling at targeted creature removal.  I argue that Black is just as good as White in this regard, because it has a wider selection of  very good choices, whereas White has a small handful of outstanding ones.  Black also has the card draw to get the removal when you need it and also a number ways to recur the spot removal – my favorites being Toshiro Umezawa and Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed.  

 

I want to reiterate the importance of card draw here.  Spot removal is not as good in Commander because while it’s necessary, it’s  one-for-one trade puts you at a card disadvantage compared to the players that did not lose any resources on board or in hand to remove the threat.  Black, with its ability to draw cards and recover with its potent card draw, outstrips White’s more effective removal options by recouping this loss of card advantage.

 

Historically, Terror began the genre and Dark Banishing continued to carry the banner, but in the relatively recent past targeted two-drop Black removal became more reliable  with the printing of Doom Blade, [card]Go For the Throat, and Malicious Affliction.  

 

Recently, very good cards like Murder and Hero’s Downfall have also come along, but they cost that extra Black pip, and that can mean all the difference with instant speed removal as you may have to make the hard choice between advancing your board state or holding enough mana back.  I always seem to be able to do something and still hold two mana back, but not three.  There are also some very good four-drop Black spot removal spells which you will see in my list below.  Most are instants, but there are sorceries and creatures that do a good job, too.

 

Curtains’ Call is a new gem that people really need to get on board with before it goes up in price anymore.  In a typical three-man pod, it costs 3B at instant speed for unconditional creature removal for two threats!  Are you kidding me!?!  That rate is amazing and people are only waived off because they see the initial cost before undaunted cheapens it.  Even late game when one or two players are out, you should be able to afford the higher casting cost; it’s still unconditional removal for a two-for-one spell.

 

These are both cards that have created many “gotcha” moments for me, as people don’t expect the removal when you are tapped out.  Beware of their limitations: neither kill black creatures.

 

 

Honorable Mentions: Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief, Big Game Hunter, Tendrils of Corruption

 

III)  Edict Effects

Lastly, Black also sports “edict effects,” named after the original card Diabolic Edict that first featured this mechanic.   Edict effects in Black force your opponent make the choice (often tough) of which creature they must sacrifice.  Notably, this gets around indestructibility and hexproof/shroud.  This is a very effective alternative to targeted removal and the best spells in this category are actually creatures.

 

These two get top billing because both are easily recurrable as creatures.  You can include Slum Reaper, but the extra mana for a third copy of the effect generally means it doesn’t make the final cut in the 99 for me.  As I often run Vedalken Orrery (more on that in the fourth article) these three-drop edicts can spell trouble when you can flash them out.  If you can demonstrably recur them, opponents will stop playing creatures because your flash casting and recursion of them is so oppressive – especially if combined with Grave Pact and/or Dictate of Erebos– that is the best!  

 

I’ve killed an Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre equipped with Lightning Greaves, a hasty and pumped Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, a Thraximundar, a Narset, Enlightened Master, and other critical creatures with this nifty little combo.

 

Honorable Mention: Woebringer Demon, Diabolic Edict

 

That wraps it up for part two.  Stay tuned for next time when I close out the “strengths” section of this series on Black and talk about the things that Black is uniquely good at but are not necessarily popular in Commander…  

 

Series Navigation<< The Power of the Dark Side – Part I
  • Luke Bumpus

    I’m surprised you didn’t add Crypt Ghast and Nirkana revenant to the ramp section. In my experience, Black is the strongest color in Commander. It ramps as hard as green most of the time, it can wipe the board as well as white, it draws as well as blue and has big demons that are just as scary as reds dragons.