This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series The Power of the Dark Side

By Phil, AKA BeltFed Weapon

 

Now that I’ve walked through Black’s strengths for three articles, it is time we review the color’s primary weaknesses.  To quote Sun Tzu:

 

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.  If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. – Sun Tzu

 

Black, for all its merits, still has some serious holes in its arsenal.  Instead of a long introduction, I want to jump right past the upfront theory and embed it in each section.  

 

Note:  the * denotes the card has some other kind of function or upside outside of what is discussed herein.

 

Weakness #1:  Enchantment and Artifact Removal

 

The one thing Black cannot do is easily take out enchantments and/or artifacts on its own; a serious shortfall if you’re going mono-color.  Mono-Black essentially has to either exile them from the library, try to strip them from hands before they get played, or lean on colorless sources to deal with these types of permanents.  This generally means a much higher mana cost than colors that naturally deal with them have to pay.  

 

Early on in Magic’s history, Wizards violated the color pie and gave Black a few tools to try and take out artifacts: Gate to Phyrexia and Phyrexian Tribute.  They are far from ideal; the first is slow and the second is inefficient.  

 

Fortunately, artifacts and Eldrazi spells have been printed to fill in the gap.  For years, the only real way for mono-Black to deal with an enchantment like Karma was to run Nevinyrral’s Disk.  You had to use a broadsword when you only needed a scalpel.  Now there are plenty of broadswords and scalpels if you are willing to pay the mana and $$$ for them – which your ramp, and hopefully your trade binder, will allow you to do.

 

Solution 1: Broadswords

 

  • All Is Dust  is my favorite way to take out enchantments, as it nabs creatures and other colored permanents too while also leaving your artifacts largely untouched as long as they don’t have a color associated with them.  Very, very, very good and I contend that it’s almost a requirement in any serious mono-Black control deck.

 

  • Oblivion Stone* This is the boardwipe I always wanted Black to have when I was a kid – “Destroy everything except lands” is what I wanted the card to say.  O-Stone essentially says just that for a total of 8 mana, with the upside of saving some permanents if you have the time and mana to put into it.  Again, very good.

 

  • Ugin, Spirit Dragon* He is basically a second copy of All is Dust that also has lightning bolt on the card and a sick ultimate mode if you can get it off and all for only one more colorless mana than All is Dust.  The nice thing about his boardwipe ability is both the exile clause (you have sac outlets in Black), but also a massive boardwipe like this generally protects him so that you can start building up to the ultimate, which I have done a small handful of times in commander.  Generally, this happens when the mana aligns so that I’ve destroyed everyone else’s hands with Myojin of Night’s Reach either the turn after or before Ugin is played.  They have nothing and you have a very strong planeswalker who has a backbreaking ultimate.

 

  • Nevinyrral’s Disk  This is the O.G. broadsword solution and still very good, especially with untap effects.  It doesn’t kill planeswalkers, but you can use that to your advantage too.  It also combos well with Darksteel Forge and [card]Mycosynth Lattice[card] as a recurring boardwipe that destroys everything, but it doesn’t die as it cannot destroy itself.  You can do this with O-Stone, too, as a single one-sided board wipe that destroys ALL your opponent’s permanents means that you have effectively won.

 

  • Perilous Vault is good if you want another effect and you do not have a lot of board presence and/or have ways to sacrifice your non-land cards.

 

  • Boompile – This card is here for completeness, but I don’t like it as I have terrible luck and I don’t like sacrificing a cheaper mana cost for random chance.  This gets much better if paired with Krark’s Thumb, however.

 

Solution 2: Scalpels

 

  • Mindslaver*.  This is a broadsword that you can wield as a scalpel – so the best of both.  Outside of abusing this amazing card by getting multiple activations out of it from Rings of Brighthearth or recurring it with Trading Post, many times the best way to deal with problematic permanents on the board is to take over the turn of the player most likely able to address them.  You have no idea how many times I have Mindslavered someone to wreck their board and cast their spells against themselves, possibly dealing with the problematic enchantment or artifact.  You can swing their utility creatures into your fatties, sacrifice permanents poorly, waste spells, and even cast their own counters against their own spells – all to just use up their resources.  You leave their board-state a mess – and all for ten total mana.  It’s so good, so massive, and while you don’t know what they have in hand, you do know what they have on-board and, in regular playgroups, you know the spells they generally run.    

 

  • Scour From Existence is a very good instant answer to anything; you just have to pay seven for it.  The exile is especially nice.  Monetarily, this is a cheap card and ranks at the top because it does everything you want a removal spell to do at instant speed.  The only sticking point is its CMC –  but all these scalpels do, so beggars can’t be choosers when you’re doing things that Black as a color can’t inherently do.

 

  • Karn Liberated – I rank this just behind Scour.  Why?  On its face, Karn is a better card as he sticks around, he has other modes, and you can ultimate him.  The reality, however, is that:

 

– The card costs ~$35 – $50 (versus $0.25 for Scour From Existence

– He’s a planeswalker, so he gets targeted and doesn’t stick around

– I generally get to use his removal ability only once at sorcery speed

– I have ultimated him all of one time in my non-Green decks (Green has  Doubling Season) and everyone conceded that game anyways once I ultimated.  

 

Karn is certainly a better card in theory, but because he’s so good and the “attack that planeswalker!” stigma exists from other formats, he’s often just a worse Scour from Existence. So why not run the instant if you have to choose?  My answer is to run both when you can.

 

  • Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.  I rank O.G. Ulamog above his later version because of the annihilator effect and graveyard abilities on this card.  Yes, he costs one more mana and, yes, he only destroys one permanent versus exiling two, but if you have a way to give him haste or flash him out, then there’s no time for your opponent to deal with an indestructible fatty swinging their way that just put an “Annihilator 4” trigger on the stack, after just destroying the scariest permanent on the board from his cast trigger.  That is far more heat than “newlamog” can generate.  

 

Further, unless it’s down to you and the last opponent, you probably aren’t swinging at the guy with a horde of tokens to sac to the annihilator – so you’ll have a choice of targets of who is most hurt.  Lastly, Ulamog’s graveyard trigger has saved me from being milled out on at least half a dozen occasions.  You can run both, but unless you’re going with a lot of fatty Eldrazis at the top end, I generally prefer this version of Ulamog.

 

  • Ulamog, the Ceasless Hunger is better if you prefer to focus more on exiling two permanents and paying less mana for that effect.  The library destruction is gravy and good, but unless the exile mill is part of your strategy (Oblivion Sower) a form of Schrodinger’s Cat theory is not enough for me – you don’t know what you’re going to get until you mill cards away and see them. Out of 20 cards, you certainly will exile something good, but a guaranteed annihilator 4 trigger working on permanents already on board is just better in my opinion.

 

  • Spine of Ish Sah is possibly the most combo-oriented card on this list.  This card affects the board state in a similar manner as Karn, in that it’s cast at sorcery speed, but is recurrable.  All you have to add is Phyrexia’s Core as a land slot.  Krark Clan Ironworks is an ideal pairing, as you can loop the Spine for a net cost of five mana.  With the infinite mana you can easily generate from any number of combos, this reasonable and recurrable spot removal becomes a wincon very easily.

 

  • Avarice Totem is another card that is a possibility if you have the mana and want to steal the artifact or enchantment threat and use it for yourself.  The cost to activate the ability isn’t bad, but then it becomes you and the other opponent fighting over the permanent while the other players don’t have to pay the five mana tax per turn.  The key is to have 10 mana and a permanent you don’t mind losing, like a creature token or an artifact with a universal effect like Torpor Orb.  

 

Here, you target your permanent first, and -with that ability on the stack – you then target what you really want.  The second activation goes on the stack on top and resolves.  You switch the totem for the permanent you want, then the totem switches back to you for the permanent you wanted to trade away.  I admit, it is 10 mana, but you can easily generate that kind of mana in a mono-Black deck. It’s a great way to deal with troublesome permanents and get their effects for yourself – and all at instant speed, no less.  

Once your opponents catch on, they’ll start wasting kill spells on this one mana artifact or they’ll stop putting out juicy targets and this one-drop becomes a kind of a rattlesnake.  All these scenarios are wins for you as your deck should have instant-speed mana sinks you can use to advance your board state if you don’t have to use the totem because it’s suppressing the board.

 

  • Argentum Armor is the last entry on this list and for good reason.  To get the effect that you want, you have to invest twelve mana and have an attacking creature – quite a steep cost.  With that said, however, don’t be completely put off.  Sometimes you need a Vindicate effect and you would gladly pay twelve for it.  Other times, you are running Brass Squire already in an equipment-based voltron deck.  Further, there are many five-power mono-Black legends.  Making that creature your general and having it don this armor makes the creature a two-hit clock – maybe even a lethal threat if you already have ten commander damage already placed on an opponent.   That is worth twelve mana in the late game.  The number of mono-Black generals that fit this bill is significant, so don’t discount this possibility if this card works with your strategy.

 

As this was an in-depth topic to address Black’s primary deficiency, that’s all I could cover in the allotted space – Mark is a stickler of an editor, after all! [Editor’s Note: that’s probably true.]

 

Next time, I’ll continue in the penultimate article in the series, where I talk about the problems of life loss and counterspell vulnerability.

Series Navigation<< The Power of the Dark Side – Part IVThe Power of the Dark Side – Part VI:  Continuing Black’s Achilles Heel – Life Loss & Counterspells >>
  • Eshed

    Chainer, Dementia Master was just a lowly Cabal Initiate until he read this article series.

    • BeltFedWeapon

      Glad I can help a fellow black player out. I don’t have a Chainer deck, but I use him in the 99 in a number of decks – most notably Kokusho. How detrimental do you find his exile clause is to your creatures? Do you run sac outlets synergies as a part of the deck to try and minimize that downside?

      • BeltFedWeapon

        Eshed, I’d like your input since you’ve replied to my series a couple of times: do you think it would be useful to have an addendum article to the series that outlined a core mono-black shell? I find that most traditional ‘good’ mono-black decks I build use a similar core group of cards that really are not overly expensive (like Crypt Ghast, Bojuka Bog, Caged Sun, etc). That way, it’s very helpful for new Commander players.

        • Eshed

          It’s hard to say, we Commander afficianados are a diverse lot… Some of us just want to pick up a precon and have at it. Others like myself listen to podcasts and read articles when we aren’t obsessively brewing and tweaking. The former might benefit from a basic guide list and succinct explanations for the card choices, but the latter won’t need the hand holding. Crypt ghast, Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tom of Yawgmoth, alongside Exsanguinate and Gray Merchant of Asphodel are like the backs of some player’s hands. If I could go back in time to my first forays into the format, I would have loved having a basic staple skeleton to flesh out. Building 100 card decks without the basic structure of 20-25 creatures, 20-25 lands, and about 10 spells was a daunting prospect. I’d imagine most new players already have a few cards in mind, perhaps a chosen Commander, and they might want a better grasp of how to complete the deck. Maybe along the lines of what makes a black card good or bad in the format, and how well it supports the strategy a given general is suited to.

      • Eshed

        The exile clause isn’t a huge problem for Chainer, for two reasons. First, yes, I run cheap (preferably free to activate) sac outlets like Viscera Seer and Ashnod’s Altar/Altar of Dementia (Phyrexian Altar is more expensive, but awesome). Second, Chainer’s reanimate ability isn’t generally used in the traditional reanimator sense, i.e, brining out big dudes on the cheap, earlier than normal. The early game is mostly spent wiping the board and filling everyone’s yard, not just your own. Chainer’s beauty lies in ANY graveyard, and instant speed reanimate (this much I’m sure you know). That means he likes to whip out your ETB creatures, and then put ’em right back in the yard where they’re safe from exile, using the afforementioned sac outlets. Alternatively, you can kill/mill your opponent’s creatures and reanimate those, in which case his exile clause is a plus. If he can’t have ’em, nobody can. The biggest problem for Chainer is having all graveyards exiled, not his Nightmares.