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

By Phil, AKA BeltFed Weapon

 

Build up your weaknesses until they become your strengths

–Knute Rockne

 

As nice as this adage is, it does not really apply to Magic.  You cannot print your own cards or alter the rules – you are constrained to the rules that Commander and Wizards imposes upon you.  What you can do however, is to recognize those shortcomings and shore them up as best as possible, hopefully with some synergy and being on-theme to with your deck.  Because Black can do so much and there is nearly 25 years of cardboard at this point, some creativity is all that is needed to largely overcome these weaknesses.  You will find that your biggest constraint will invariably be the 99 cards that make up your deck as you want to do more but only have so many slots.  With that said, let us continue…

 

Weakness:  Life Loss

 

A problem I frequently run into is losing too much life too fast.  Not only do I get targeted for controlling the board, my card draw largely costs life.  Here and there, it is not so bad, but during an extended game of Commander, the life loss from the draw plus the hostile attacks add up so that you can get to a low life total rather quickly.  I employ two strategies with managing life loss.  

 

Solution #1: Life Gain

 

The more obvious, safer (read: less interesting solution) is to put some life gain in the deck.  The key here though, is to have the life gain be part of a larger strategy so that the card slots you are dedicating to life gain also do other things that you want to be doing.  Life gain by itself is a waste of a card slot, so doing it alongside other things you want to do is key.

 

  • Wurmcoil Engine is a great example and is so very good because it attacks, blocks, and dies spectacularly, all while not only stemming life loss from blocks, but also gaining you life from its inherent lifelink.  A great play is to attack with the Wurmcoil, tapping him and having what appears to be an open board.  That person does a crackback swing but instead, you feed the Wurmcoil to Trading Post creating death touch and lifelink blockers while also getting you the Wurmcoil Engine back to hand from the activated Trading Post’s ability to recast.  Slot in any other sacrifice outlet for similar effect sans the recursion.  This is an on-board trick that most opponents miss, especially on Trading Post as the card isn’t really used for the sacrifice side of things.  It protects you, kills their creature, and gains you life all at once.  

 

  • Whip of Erebos represents the potential for massive life gain plus recursion of hasty creatures on one card.  The best are creatures with ETB triggers, but even then, comboing this card with Conjuror’s Closet is value.  In decks that use heavy ETB triggering creatures its better as not only do you get the creature back permanently, you get a second ETB trigger.  Fantastic.

 

  • Crypt Incursion:  You can gain massive life off of this card at instant speed for a mere 2B.  Want to blow out graveyard decks while also padding your life total at instant speed when someone attacks you for what looks to be lethal damage?  This is your card.  It only exiles creatures, but most recursive graveyard strategies revolve around creatures.

 

 

  • Batterskull – gains you life and deters ground attacks while also applying big beats pressure.  Very good.

 

Incidental Life gain cards:  Crypt Ghast, Trading Post, Inventor’s Fair, Disciple of Bolas are all cards that you run for other reasons that also gain you life.  More power to you.

 

Solution #2: Jiu-Jitsu

 

The saucier option is a Jiu-Jitsu strategy – you redirect other people’s life total in relative to your lower one.  Using your life loss as a weapon and building your deck to handle it while your opponents reel from your trickery is fantastic when you pull it off.  You can either bring them down with you or switch life totals.  You don’t see this strategy too often, but it can certainly work if you don’t mind being low at life and you love your Necropotence activations.

 

 

This is an answer that’s also a threat that people don’t see coming.  Switching life totals with the player with the highest total saves you and can easily kill them as ideally you have a threat that can get through.  You’re then at their high life total and ready to continue to take on the rest of the board.  Make no bones about it, this card isn’t great – it takes a total of 12 mana to use, but it jiu-jitsu’s the table really well and is a very Commander thing to deploy to save your bacon while also taking someone else out.  

 

Ideally, your play group doesn’t have a problem with Wishes and you Death Wish for it.  That way, it is not clogging up a slot in your deck and the Death Wish’s life loss further works with it.  That bumps up the mana requirement to 15 CMC total, but I have never had a problem with a Black deck generating that kind of juice when  Soul Conduit is what I want and I’ve used the card this way over a dozen times over the years – each with great success.  It also allows me to run nine other cards in the sideboard that are also situation dependent.  This way, the slot for the Death Wish works much harder for you than one just dedicated to the Soul Conduit.

 

 

Yet another underused gem.  I find that I am frequently at the lowest life total at the board and I often ask myself is if I can leverage this fact.  I don’t use this card nearly as often as Soul Conduit, but when I do, I have set it up perfectly as this card has just a single real use – to win on the spot.  If you use it early with no way to win, everyone is going to be scared and then mad that you just took their life down to whatever low amount of life you have; that’s not a good place to put yourself, so it involves some setup.  

 

What you need are cards like Zulaport Cutthroat and some dying creatures, a small follow-up  Exsanguinate, Massacre Wurm and some weenies…something like that which finishes the job that Repay in Kind started.  The best setup by far however, is from Necropotence.  It fuels the card advantage that gets Leechridden Swamp into play (wait a turn to untap it first) and with either Repay in Kind in your hand or a tutor to find it.  Once you’re in the clear (no direct damage and you think the counterspells are not available) you activate Necro and put yourself down to 1 life, cast Repay in Kind and then finish off the table with Leechridden Swamp.  

 

Yes, you need two black permanents, but Necro is one and you likely have another on the field, like your commander.  That’s 8 mana total and two of the cards easily slot in to the deck:  I have already expounded upon my love for Necropotence and Leechridden Swamp is actually a swamp land type for doubling effects!.  Repay in Kind is also another card that can go in a Death Wish package.  I prefer Soul Conduit  for a number of reasons, but suffice to say it is personal choice.  Each is disruptable and has the potential to be a real bad blowout on your side.  I just think Soul Conduit has less risk and requires less setup.  It is also more interesting with a small tradeoff of being more expensive. I do however, run Repay in Kind in a combo deck and a “race to the bottom” hellbent style Rakdos deck as well.

 

Weakness:  No True Counterspells

 

One of the reasons that Blue is such a good color is that it features counterspells.  You can deal with any permanent and even abilities if you get out ahead of it by reserving the mana and/or by having high-end counterspells like Force of Will.  Black does not really have this ability, so if you sit down to a heavy Blue costs and thus a tempo loss to you.  There are a few ways to try and deal with this directly, but politics and keeping a low-profile are also very useful strategies that do not cost a card slot at all.

 

Solution #1: Indirect Answers

 

Mana Denial:  

I have repeatedly found that mana denial is the best strategy if you want to choke off counterspells.  Only Force of Will and Foil really get around this limitation.  Pact of Negation is a death sentence if used in this scenario – so the smart Blue mage will not use it.  I have talked about it at length in my second article in this series so I won’t go too far in depth here.  The basis here is that Black can leverage its mana base better than Blue.   While both have access to artifact ramp, Black has far more options at doubling mana effects and tutors.  With enough density, early game tutors and mana denial from Contagion, Infernal Darkness can either lock the game or give you enough of a jump on the field to do something about all those dangerous counterspells in various Blue players’ hands.  Strip Mine, Wasteland, Rishadan Port are all acute ways to disable a land.  You then wait until main phase two after the Blue mana drains to deploy your card(s).

 

Hand Disruption:  

I mentioned the key cards here in article #2 as well.  Without rehashing the cards, put this discard in context when you combine mass hand disruption with mana denial.  If you have a mana-doubler out and then are able to drop Infernal Darkness the following turn relatively early in the game when the blue player(s) are still setting up and ramping, you have a decent chance that you have enough mana to cast Myojin of Night’s Reach or Cabal Conditioning.  If these spells can stick, that will cull their hands of counterspells.  You use these in conjunction with Hymn to Tourach and Mind Twist to directly assault their hand when they have the mana untapped to force a counter or potentially lose the counter plus more cards.  Sometimes, the best strategy is to make them use the counters by baiting out good but not essential cards.  Talrand, Sky Summoner may be able to counterspell you at every turn, but not every Blue deck can or wants to, especially in a 4 man pod.

 

Solution #2:  Direct Answers

 

  • Imp’s Mischief* is Black’s closest thing to an effective counterspell.  Don’t waste your time with Nullstone Brooch or other less-than-ideal cards that try and counter spells – they are not worth it.  Imp’s Mischief can stand on its own because it not only redirects counterspells to it – which serves as a form of counterspell, it can also redirect Time Stretch to you, Cruel Ultimatum and his brethren away from you, and any other useful number of ways to unexpectedly send harm elsewhere or benefits to you – all for the cost of some life that is very much worth it.  This is a great violation of the color pie straight from the Time Spiral block!

 

  • Withering Boon is an option that violates the color pie as well, but I find it to be not as well suited, unless absolutely called for.  Normally, you have very efficient creature removal in Black to deal with threats as they land, so there is no need to have a counterspell that cost you some life to do the same thing.  The card gets better however, when the creature is immediately suited up with a pair of Lightning Greaves or has the ability already built in, like Narset, Enlightened Master.  In a meta where cards like this run around and you want to play mono-Black, Withering Boon is worth the slot alongside Imp’s Mischief and your preferred number of edict effects.  

 

 

That wraps it up for the weaknesses section. If I have left out a strategy to mitigate or type of weakness, let me know.  I’m always willing to discuss in the posts or make another addendum entry to this series.  Next time, I plan on wrapping it up with different mono-Black archetypes and Commanders that support them.

Series Navigation<< The Power of the Dark Side – Part V
  • BeltFedWeapon

    I realized that I left out Gary (Gray Merchant of Asphodel) for the lifegain section. He can really be a beating and save your bacon with all the black pips you likely have on the board. The whip of Erebos and Conjurer’s Closet combo is brutal with him.

    • Eshed

      Would you run Diabolic Revelation to search up Closet/Whip? I already use Whip for the lifegain, plus Buried Alive and Entomb with Gary in my Chainer deck. Maybe I should add in the Closet?

      • BeltFedWeapon

        If you use the whip, then YES add the closet. Especially since you like ETBs, there is no reason not to run it. It also makes your minions non-minions as well! I don’t like Diabolic Revelation. Yes, it is a multi-tutor, but look at how much juice you’re spending for 2+ cards. I know you’re not doing much else. Even with Diabolic Tutor, you get that one card you want and can possibly cast it same turn. There are so many ‘better’ tutors out there and you have to ask yourself, how many tutors do I want in this deck? For every tutor, that is one less card that is actually doing something – so you have to weigh that fact.

  • Eshed

    Imp’s Mischief is hot tech! I actually won a game once using it… a friend had Phage The Untouchable in his graveyard and he cast Animate Dead on some other target.

    • BeltFedWeapon

      To name some of the best plays – with Imp’s mischief, I have:
      – nabbed a Time Stretch for myself
      – redirected a Cruel Ultimatum at its caster
      – countered counterspells
      – redirected a Mind Twist back at its caster