A Durdle’s Guide to Ravnica – Black

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A lot of the early buzz around RTR has centred on black cards, be it in Zombies, Reanimator or Jund Midrange strategies. Given that Jund was the consensus best Block deck after GP Anaheim and the World Magic Cup and that Zombies and Frites lost very little from already-strong decks, that’s not a surprise. There are quite a few cards here that I think have potential, so let’s take a look!

Daggerdrome Imp I loved Vault Skirge. Played it a ton, in a few different decks. I knew Vault Skirge well and you, Daggerdrome Imp, are no Vault Skirge. It might not be immediately obvious why it’s nowhere near as good, so I’ll break it down:

It can’t be played on turn 1;

It isn’t pumped to high heaven by Tempered Steel (which is rotating anyway);

It can’t be played on turn 1.

I can’t see a scenario where having an early flier will be Imp-ortant enough to run this, even if there is a black or Rakdos aggro deck. Maybe if it had Unleash…

Dark Revenant I don’t know how many of you are old enough/have been playing long enough to remember Gravebane Zombie, but I do. It saw some amount of play in a few different decks, either as a combo piece or reliable defence. Like Dark Revenant it was REALLY hard to get rid of, and that sometimes locked out its controller.

If Birthing Pod were still a card, this might be a thing (it would go on top of the library before the search, meaning you could shuffle it away), but of course we lose Pod with rotation. There aren’t any powerful effects that require us to sacrifice a creature, but this is one to file away in your notebooks in case we DO get such an effect.

Dead Reveler It seems like 3 power and 3 toughness will be the key numbers in this format. A lot of the strong cards in RTR are around that mark, so the fact that the Reveler can kill them if they block without trading might be worth bearing in mind. Is he fast enough for an aggro deck? I’m not sure. What better options are there on turn 3? Almost all the time you will be unleashing him, but you always have the option to NOT do so and that is just gravy.

Desecration Demon Remember when 6/6 fliers for 4 had some sort of insane drawback, like preventing you from winning the game? Oh wait, that was only a couple of years ago.

No matter how good you think this card is, it’s highly likely that you are underrating it unless you’ve playtested it. The Abyss was 3B for a World Enchantment, and it is still very powerful today. This is an Abyss that you can play in multiples and THAT HITS YOUR OPPONENT IN THE FACE when they run out of dudes to sacrifice. Did I mention that it keeps getting bigger? No?

IT KEEPS GETTING BIGGER.

We haven’t even talked about how strong this guy is with things like Tamiyo, Jace, Reaper from the Abyss (fitting, no?) and Blood Artist. I haven’t seen many people putting this card in their decks and I think that’s plain wrong. Desecration Demon is going to make a lot of people very dead before we’re much older. A 6/6 flier for 4. Man, it just seems obvious to me.

Grave Betrayal I’m on the fence about this card. On the one hand, it costs 7 and requires you to do more work before it has any impact on the game. Aggro decks have no place for this, midrange decks likely don’t want a 7-drop that doesn’t say “I win now” on it, so control decks are the only ones that can legitimately be expected to find a home for this. Following it up with a Supreme Verdict or large Bonfire is of course the end of the game, but will you be able to survive long enough to untap with a 7-mana enchantment in play?

That’s the test of this card. Certainly against Zombies, the answer is a resounding “No” in many cases, and Undying adds a wrinkle to that anyway. If there is a real GW midrange deck that wins by gaining too much life to overcome, this might be playable out of the board. Any token strategy makes it much weaker, of course. It’s also very possible that this card combos with Desecration Demon in some very unfair ways. I really, really want it to be good enough, but I’m not holding out too much hope.

Pack Rat For every person I see deriding this card, I see another praising it. It’s a unique ability that obviously has an effect that CAN be powerful, but is it worth the cost? I think it can be.

The first thing to look at here is that Pack Rat has power and toughness equal to the number of Rats you control. I don’t think Drainpipe Vermin will see play, but Ravenous Rats has in the past been constructed-playable and may be again if hand destruction becomes a viable strategy to deal with upper-curve threats. There are also plenty of cards in the environment that don’t mind being discarded, or cards that actively want you to discard other cards. It’s worth tinkering with at the very least.

Shrieking Affliction Is this a good enough tool against aggro decks? With Ravenous Rats, Duress and potentially Mind Rot can a hand denial deck be viable enough that this card is just nasty? Probably not, sadly. The fact that I got blown out by this card at one of the prereleases is not enough to save it in what looks to be a slower constructed format.

With that said, if this card is going to make a run, it will be in a deck that gives the opponent a choice between emptying its hand to keep up with removal and keeping cards in hand to avoid the damage each turn. That sort of deck likely runs things like Rakdos’s Return as well, so Affliction will be more of a supplementary damage source than a win condition. Whether or not a deck like that can spare two or three precious card slots for this effect is what will determine its viability, and my money is against it.

Stab Wound This card did more damage over the course of the prerelease weekend than almost any other card I can name. As 3 power seems to be the thing in the coming format, Stab Wound has a shot at being playable. It’s an Aura, which has synergy with Sphere of Safety and makes it hard to remove. It can put you into a favourable race scenario, especially if you have a 0-power defender to take care of the attacker. It might just be too clunky though, which is a shame for such a deliciously flavourful card.

Ultimate Price When you share a mana cost with the departing Doom Blade, you have a large pair of shoes to fill. As we are about to see a gold block its effectiveness will be lessened, but it still gets a lot of very powerful creatures: Restoration Angel, Thragtusk, Champion of the Parish, Griselbrand, Angel of Serenity, Desecration Demon…it’s a long list. People are already brewing decks to make sure their win conditions get around both Price and Abrupt Decay, which further dilutes its power while simultaneously acknowledging it.

The bottom line is that very few decks will make Ultimate Price a blank. It’s still a 2-mana removal spell at instant speed, and those tend to be pretty good.

Underworld Connections Insert obligatory “mono-black control is back baby” comment here. Phyrexian Arena was pretty good right? Yes sir it was. I’m also fairly sure that if you’ve played with it, you’ve died to it more than once or at least had it hasten your defeat. For the low low price of 1 mana, Underworld Connections gives you complete control over how many cards you draw and how much life you lose to it. Seems like a fair deal to me. That’s without even considering Arbor Elf shenanigans to untap the land or Thragtusk to gain you back the life.

Even though Ghost Quarter is in the format, this is the only real playable enchant land and as such is unlikely to warrant main-decking of another colourless land. That is, unless we assume that Grove of the Guardian, Gavony Township, Moorland Haunt and Vault of the Archangel are all going to see some level of play. Having said that, the existence of those lands also makes it more likely that your Connections can survive as the opponent may well want to hold back his Quarter for those hard-to-answer bombs. All in all I think this is worse than Phyrexian Arena, but there’s a lot of room for a card to be worse than Arena and still be good enough.

Thoughts on Black

There are plenty of cards here to build around. Pack Rat and Underworld Connections even play well together, which might be worth exploring at some point. Desecration Demon is not getting anywhere near enough attention, which suits me fine until I get my playset, but I can’t see a way that this card is not amazing.

There are some potent tools here, and plenty I want to build around.

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