Tuesday 19 March 2013

Revised Reviews: Black Creatures

GriselbrandGriselbrand 2.4
Power 3.3
Support 1.2

This new monstrosity has given a great deal of power to all the decks who cheat fatties into play. Griselbrand is both an enabler and also a decent fatty himself. You can toss him down happily into removal just to refill your hand and ensure you can drop more things until they are out of answers. Should they fail to have the first answer Griselbrand will just make short work of them on his own. Not only is he a decent fatty with a good build in security mechanism against answers he also has evasion making him a viable game winner and lifelink making him a cover you in another front or for fuelling more card draw. He works in the majority of decks that cheat in fatties with the exception of Tinker and Natural Order which is fairly rare for a fatty. Being black somewhat increases his resiliance but doubtfully as much as being a legend reduces it. The latter does at least make him viable to Goryo's Vengeance into play however that is not yet a cube deck I have tried to make work. Eight is a lot of mana but in black it is not totally outside the realms of possibility for more normal decks. Lake of the Dead gets you a long way there and cards like Dark Ritual do their bit. As such Griselbrand has turned up in the odd mono black control deck but hasn't come out much as yet. I suspect the very late game nature complete with the large life payment chunks when compared with something like Yawgmoth's Bargain mean he would mostly be a 7/7 flying lifelink and not get much of a chance to use the ability compared to in the combo uses for him. He should remain a cube stay for quite some time being a well rounded dork and playable in many combo decks as well as more normal control decks.

TombstalkerTombstalker 1.0
Power 2.4
Support 0.4

Abyssal Persecutor pretty much ruined this demons day, before that Baneslayer Angel had been ruining his last few years... The stalker is quite hard to drop early and has a lot of anti-synergy with black cards, many of which want to be in the graveyard, others of which get you things back from the yard. Taking 8 from a confidant for this card also detracts from his appeal. I like the delve mechanic despite having poor synergy with lots of cards. The mechanism is also a little backwards in that it allows you to make it cheaper to cast as the game goes on. The Tombstalker is most at home in a Psychatog style control deck where having a card you play later in the game but costs little mana is useful to be able to keep up counter magic. In this regard his is somewhat like Serra Avenger but more so. Sadly for a late game card just being a 5/5 flyer doesn't cut it any more, even if your cheap. In those roles for which control decks do not have vast numbers of slots, they want to pack as powerful a cards as possible. Tombstalker is also fine in mid range decks of most forms but rarely better than fine. You need to be able to get 3 or so card in your bin by turn 5 reliably to have Tombstalker not be hand clogger in the more midrange decks. This means instants, cheap sorceries and sac lands for the most part but is also helped with cheap utility dorks. He would likely feature a lot more in black agro decks as they have lots of cheap discard and removal to easily fill up graveyards however Dark Confidant is vastly better and makes Tombstalker more risk than he is worth. 

Grave Titan
Grave Titan 3.7
Power 3.8
Support 3.6

While comparable to Inferno Titan in power levels the grave dork gets a lower rating as black has more things it wants to spend 6 mana on than red does in the cube. The reason for these Titans being the two best is that they can come down and deal with multiple threats from the opponent. Green is lucky to deal with any while blue and white deal with one at best usually. Grave Titan is like a Deranged Hermit or Siege-Gang that doesn't have a feeble body and continues to pump out men. Grave Titan tends to be the hardest to kill of the cycle and offers the most value if instantly killed. With access to dark ritual and lake of the dead the grave titan is often first into play of the titans. Rock decks using birthing pod also favour this guy as the 6 mana link in the chain. While only comparable really in mana cost and in being a threat, Grave Titan has often taken the slot in a deck that would previously have gone to Sorin Markov as he is a bit safer and a bit more proactive. Deathtouch is not an exciting ability but it is better than nothing and making pairs of 2/2s every turn from the get go is good in all situations for and against all decks. The abilities on other Titans tend to require more building around and depend far more on the game state as to how powerful they will be. All in all this is an awful lot of card for just six mana with good presence and good ongoing effects that wins games in very short order. When coupled with a good chance on getting card advantage and being so generically useful you end up with one of the best late game threats in Magic.

ShriekmawShriekmaw 3.0 
Power 2.7
Support 3.4

This is my personal favourite of all the Nekretaal style monsters black has to offer. Skinrender is the next in line, offering more targeting potential, a bigger body and less mana to flop out. Shriekmaw trumps these advantages by offering great flexibility in mana requirements. Not having a guy but being able to cast a removal spell is better than doing nothing, particularly as the slot is regarded as a slot for removal rather than for a threat. Evoke is a great mechanic offering great versatility in the card and smoothing out mana curves. It also has good synergy with Recurring Nightmare as it puts itself in the yard when evoked. Fear is of more use than an extra toughness and while the limitation of viable targets is sometimes annoying the ability to kill monsters of all sizes is most welcome. Black is a fairly hard colour to splash with many of its more powerful effects having intense black mana requirements. Shriekmaw is one of the better cards black has to offer as a splash colour with its single black cost and specific effect unique to black.

Bloodgift Demon
Bloodgift Demon 2.0 (B cube)
Power 2.6
Support 1.5

While neither as good as a Dark Confidant or a Consecrated Sphynx at either end of the spectrum it is a perfectly acceptable medium between the two fitting in both aggressive and control decks. Unlike most black life-for-cards effects this can be turned off to stop it killing you if needs be although quite a dire solution to be giving your opponent extra cards. The same idea can be used to deal 6 damage a turn rather than 5, but again this has to be really worth it. The best deck type found so far for this guy is a rock deck but his all-round qualities do allow for inclusion in most decks with black. The problem with Bloodgift is that he is rather slow to generate you much advantage and is fairly fragile in combat as 5 mana dorks go. As such you can lose huge amounts of tempo to the right bit of spot removal or just because of their board position making him basically a 5 mana Phyrexian Arena. If he were a 4/6 like Consecrated Sphinx he would be vastly more playable, as would he be if like the Titan cycle you got his effect as a bonus one off when he came into play like a Phyrexian Rager. He also winds up as top end filler in decks rather than assuring himself key spots in any archetype. He is too slow, vulnerable and offering wildly differing effects to be a streamlined part of a strategy and so just gets thrown in when a deck needs more card draw, fliers, five drops or just plain old threats.

Braids, Cabal Minion
Braids, Cabal Minion 2.2
Power 2.8
Support 1.7

Braids offers redundancy and synergy to mana denial decks. If your deck in cube is not doing a specific thing it needs to be really good at stopping your opponent doing things. Without counterspells it gets quite hard to cover all the different options of what could be beating you. Mana denial is one of the few ways this can be achieved and so sees much play in many incarnations of all colours. Discard in black can slow down an opponent doing a thing but is still highly vulnerable to the top deck, meaning Braids is very welcome in black. Although all the decks she features in will have to a certain extent a mana denail theme these decks are of many colour combinations and styles and so Braids is not as narrow as she might appear. Frequently found with Smallpox, Death Cloud, Bloodghast, Dark Confidant, Mana Crypt, Smokestack, Solemn Simulacrum, Skullclamp and soon to be Gravecrawler too. Braids tends to have synergy with good cards and therefore ends up in decks with high average power making her perform favourably. Much better without Karakas in the format she can work effectively in both aggressive decks and control decks. Being a 4 mana 2/2 is a big investment for a vulnerable low impact body which brings down her power considerably. The other main reason she only scores a 2.2 rating is that she is far weaker against aggressive decks. Most of the time you are happy to throw her down and chump or trade with a much cheaper guy just to prolong the game against agro which is not ideal if she is a relevant part of your strategy or considering her cost. When she works well she single handedly locks an opponent out of the game, when she is poor she is trumped by actual Grey Ogre.

Abyssal Persecutor
Abyssal Persecutor 3.3
Power 3.6
Support 2.9

There are very few dorks in the cube that are just big undercosted beaters with no added value or card advantage. This is one of the very few along with Tarmogoyf (and sort of Baneslayer, although the life gain is more utility) which should speak volumes about his power. His drawback is pretty irrelevant, particularly for a black card due to the abundance of easy ways to sacrifice him. While you should always have a few cards that can kill this in your deck that will rarely be an issue. Your opponent generally has to assume you can deal with him yourself at some stage and will kill it for you if they can, often at great expense. The flying is really handy, the trample is a small bonus too and is relevant more often than the drawback. The persecutor sees play in most non-combo archetypes that contain black although never an auto include card in any archetype as you do need to have decent ways to deal with him. This versatile man is often exactly what a deck needs to fill it out, most commonly in rock decks where lack of flying monsters is a real weakness. It is a huge threat that trumps everything dork you can make for the same mana. It is a very effective planeswalker killer and deterrent with it being so hard to stop it connecting.

Phyrexian ObliteratorPhyrexian Obliterator 3.2 
Power 4.0
Support 2.5

This is one of those cards that makes you recoil when you first read it, in shock of the extreme power of the card. You are caught out in assuming it is some new take on the old favourite Nagator but no, the extreme drawback is reversed! The first few dorks that come to mind with a drawback such as Accursed Centaur and Goblin Guide (that probably says more about my outlook on magic than anything else, always with the 2 power one mana critters...) would both be highly playable for one extra mana if the drawbacks were reversed. It was always a no-brainer than Obliterator would be a joke if ever resolved however I was unsure how frequently it would be called upon to feature in decks. Black has always had the highest power all black casting cost cards in Sinkhole, Hymn to Tourach and Necropotence but quad black is really taking it to the next level. It is basically a gold card in how restrictive it is in that you can only ever play it in a mono black deck, or at least a deck with no more than one land that doesn't tap for black. Were mono black decks going to consistently want the Obliterator was my concern, is it up to the power level of Bloodbraid Elf, Knight of the Reliquary etc which are close to auto include dorks when you are in those colours (and not doing some silly combo type deck). Another concern I had was that Obliterator is just a dork and offers no added value when bounced back into you hand or greeted into play with spot removal. He is quite a top end dork as well and will make you wince when flipped with Dark Confidant etc. Ultimately it was Geralf's Messengers that sealed the deal on Obliterator getting the A cube slot however I think in hindsight this just sped up the inevitable as he is well worthy. The influx of high power high black requiring spells complemented each other well. So what is it about Obliterator that makes him good other than having lots of stats for not much mana and an extreme penalty for hurting the thing? Well, obviously it is just that, the good dork size with added extras. It how those extras impact the game and how they can be made use of effectively in decks. He is great in control and agro for a start as you cannot really ever attack into him or ever block him without putting yourself stupidly far behind. On both occasions you are basically about to go all in on some alpha strike or have somehow managed to get very far ahead in the game in other ways. As a win condition he is a reliable 4 turn clock and as a wall he holds off all non evasion monsters. For 4 mana you cannnot get a better dual purpose control card. You also can't really do better for a stand alone agro dork for the cost either. I previously mentioned a weakness of the card is that it gains you little against spot removal however we are overlooking the fact that he is basically immune to red removal (unless of course they feel they can win from having no permanents in play), has five toughness and is black making him nearly immune to black removal too. In many ways the card is like Baneslayer Angel, a threat that almost always needs to be dealt with in order to stand a chance of winning the game. Another nice thing about Obliterator is that it doesn't compete with Abyssal Persecutor for slots in decks. When you only have space for one it is clear which is the better choice and quite often you want both. Having redundancy on significantly over powered four drops is a nice thing for a deck to be able to rely on. 3 might seem like a low rating but it is mostly due to the cards restriction to few deck types (on a side note I have seen it used well in BG Recurring Nightmare/Birthing Pod Decks which have both discard outlets and ways to cheat him into play so that he is never dead). If Obliterator was cost a 2BB he would easily command a 4.0 rating. There is no better way to describe him other than serious.

Skinrender 2.7
Power 2.6
Support 2.9

The skinrender offers the best and most reliable tempo swing out of all the 187 guys (is that reference too old now? things like Nekretaal anyways). He has a decent body and is quite cheap compared to the other god options. The main upside to this guy is that he hits any target, and even if not outright killing it certainly making it far less scary. Black removal tends to be annoyingly bad at hitting the odd thing so the Skinrender is always a card you can comfortably use to fill a removal slot in your deck knowing it will not be dead. Pretty good all round card and a very good card to partner with Shriekmaw to provide most options. While I personally prefer the Shriekmaw to Skinredner and think it is the better card overall these see roughly equal play. The choice to play either card is generally determined more by your match ups and mana curve than anything else. Being a Zombie just got better too with Gravecrawler doing the rounds and will likely determine which 187 dork you opt for first in your lists a lot too now. Skinrender is not of the same power level as many of the other 4 casting cost cards in the cube however it offers both tempo and card advantage while performing a valuable and frequently useful role. It is the least likely to be dead weight of all the 187 dorks and typically offers the greatest tempo returns.

Vampire Nighthawk
Vampire Nighthawk 3.9
Power 3.7
Support 4.1

I really didn't expect this guy to be any good at all but since his arrival he has consistently impressed and sent Hypnotic Specter to watch how it is done from the sidelines. Nighthawk is good in the cube for all the reasons he was in limited and more. There are not many fliers in cube, particularly cheap ones and so Nighthawk gives you control of the skies. Black also has limited good ways to gain life so that it may spend it again on more cards and the Nighthawk is an ongoing source of life that is cheap and has other valid uses. Defensively great for being able to block and kill almost everything and offensively useful offering evasion, good scaling with equipment and powerful tempo swings. Nighthawk is a complete all round monster and is one of the very few guys costing more than one mana in the cube that has no added card advantage effects, having sufficient merit on their body alone. This ranks him up with Tarmogoyf and Baneslayer Angel and is often referred to as the mini Baneslayer. As with Arc Trail the card does not appear as powerful to look at as they appear in game, good certainly but not immense yet they seem to have just the perfect blend of effects, size, cost etc to make them really stand out. I very nearly rated this vampire higher but suspected that was more down to my affection for the humble card having done so well. I never build a heavy black deck without it being an auto include from very agro all the way to the slowest control decks.

Priest of GixPriest of Gix 1.0
Power 1.4
Support 0.4

While a free 2/1 is great you have to have three mana to start with and it is such a weak body it basically costs you a card. Savannah Lion is only good when you cast it having not left any previous mana in the game go unspent. This generally means the first couple of turns which is why the Priest is so much weaker, he cannot reliably be made in the turns you most want his body in play. He offers a slight tempo boost in the mid game unless you have a Dark Ritual or Mana Crypt start, the latter of which is risky in black with high life penalties and low colourless mana requirements in black. The Priest does also help to fix black mana but cannot be relied upon to do so and does not allow you to construct more interesting decks as a result. The red monsters that are similar to this guy are pretty unplayable as red cannot afford the card disadvantage for such a minor tempo gain. Black is much more able to afford the lower card quality and much keener to gain tempo but usually not enough to risk playing this dork. All in all a pretty underwhelming card that only finds a home in very aggressive black decks that also have numerous card advantage spells like Necropotence, Yawgmoth's Will and Dark Confidant. The main reason he gets use is for the really abusive openers you can get with the right other cards however you don't need those kinds of openers to win most matchups any more and so he simply isn't worth the risk of being a wasted card in the later game.

Phyrexian RagerPhyrexian Rager 2.0
Power 1.8
Support 2.2

I love this little fellow but the power creep has made him look rather rusty. Sea Gate Oracle is a vastly superior card. The only small perk this offers over the newer blue option is the ability to get slightly more aggressive with the card. Grey Ogres are not the best offensive monsters and don't get all that much done. In black the cost of the life is a bit of a pain as it often means a card less later on in the game and makes it a less appealing pure control card despite that being a reasonable home for him. He left the cube for a while and returned shortly after Birthing Pod as he has great synergy with the card and is pretty playable in general. I would love to see a 2/1 version of this guy for 1B  or even a just a 3/2 for 2B, such cards would easily get a 3.5 and a 3.0 rating respectively and would see lots more play. Rager is great filler  as he is and sees most play in black pox decks, Birthing Pod decks or BW control decks. These decks are all fairly mid range decks as Rager is not powerful enough to be a mainstay in the most controlly of decks nor aggressively cost enough to be a mainstay in the most agro decks

Geralf's MessengerGeralf's Messengers 2.8
Power 3.6
Support 2.1

This card is obviously rammed full of value for his cost. Undying is one of the best abilities a dork can have, he has decent stats to begin with on top of having a useful comes into play effect and creature type. The two counterbalancing effects to keep this obvious bargain for three mana in check are the coming into play tapped and the triple black cost. Neither ruin the card for cube viability however they both narrow its scope a little. The coming into play tapped is annoying when you are on the back foot and barely noticeable when you are ahead. As such it makes the Messengers far more suited to agro decks than control ones although his raw power alone has seen him getting play in a number of control lists to good effect. One of the more noticeable effects of the coming in to play tapped is that he rarely blocks or gets blocked and simply starts a race to finish off the other player first. Once he is down the tempo swing you get from trading him for a dork in play is often too much for you opponents to risk getting into combat with him. If you attack he will usually get through and if you stay back it will hold off a lot of their team. The final note on Messengers coming into play tapped is that it is a nombo with haste effects. As for costing triple black the card is not so hampered. Many black cards are heavy black and demand a mono black deck of which Messengers finds a home in most. Outside of mono decks the Messengers still get the odd slot with cards like Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Birthing Pod and Faithless Looting all helping to solve the problem in different ways. When you can reliably make use of the card, often just by casting it, the Messengers is a lot of monster and a worthy three drop for decks trying to beat face and decks trying to just have power and value in abundance.

Hypnotic Specter
Hypnotic Specter 2.1
Power 2.4
Support 1.9

I think it is fair to say that this was the first actually good creature printed in Magic that wasn't just to tap for mana. It was a long wait before anything better was to come along and not until Zendikar that Hyppy stopped seeing frequent play in the cube. Any slow deck that cannot deal with it are basically dead to it after a few hits. If you flop it down fast with something like Dark Ritual then get a hit or two in against any deck you can invoke the free win that Hymn to Tourach and Strip Mine can both offer. It is almost entirely the fact that the discard is random that makes the card so scary to face and so potentially deadly. Oddly it is Vampire Nighthawk that always seems to take the slot of this guy in decks. Beyond costing the same for 2 power fliers they are not very similar cards. Specter does not offer the same tempo swing as he is little use in combat and is much more vulnerable. Specter can also be just a flying 2/2 late game while Nighthawk is always strong and while Nighthawk offers no direct card advantage the 2 life per turn can fairly easily be concerted into cards with many of the various black card draw mechanisms. While Hyppy is still able to take games and scare people it is far more common to play him, get a hit or two in while rapidly losing tempo only to then have to hold him back as a chump blocker. Any card advantage you have gained in such situations is likely not worth the loss in tempo it cost to get. Even more often than that he will just eat a cheap removal spell which is fine but not ideal. Having flying is very important in having Hyppies effect trigger and for dealing with pesky planeswalkers however those two aspects work against each other a slightly devalue the overall result. Hyppy is too small and slow to be all round good, while he is weak against the cheap creature decks he is never dead and is still worthy of deck slots for his strengths against control.

Vampire HexmageVampire Hexmage 3.2
Power 3.0
Support 3.5

When you absolutely positively have to kill a planeswalker, accept no substitute. There are precious few ways to deal with a planeswalker, especially if you fall behind on the board. A few three mana generic removal spells will do the job but none are quite as good at is as the little vampire. Being double black you cannot really fit her into decks splashing black although I am sure you often would if she cost 1B instead. While killing planeswalkers is her main function the ability to remove counters from things is handy in other match ups from subtle effects like colour screwing someone by turning off a Vivid land or more pronounced such a resetting a level up creature or negating a Tanglewire. Most decks have a few things with counters or you can use it on your own things to reset undying and persist effects. On top of all this utility and trickery through the instant speed effect of removing counters she can also attack and block! A 2/1 for two is fine either in aggressive decks or control ones and the bonus first strike actually makes her pretty significant in combat, more so defensively. The first strike also helps you to get some damage out of her before you sacrifice her for the effect. Due to the power of planeswalkers, the fact she is a reasonable body for the mana and offers good utility outside of her main roles she is an auto include in most heavy black decks and a strong consideration for many BX decks.

Nezumi GraverobberNezumi Graverobber 1.6 (B cube)
Power 1.5
Support 1.8

The lack of first strike or any utility without paying further mana makes the Graverobber pretty weak. Compared to a lot of two drops you could play he will likely be losing you tempo. Exiling cards in graveyards is a useful effect but at 2 mana you will be losing even more tempo to do this. Once flipped he is still pretty vulnerable and costly to make use of. With appropriate targets the game will be over fast but often you will not be using him to reanimate things until the late game. He is much better in sealed and draft cubes where decks are slower and less coherent but still not exactly thrilling. While he can win games almost on his own this is infrequent and not worth the trade off where he is very underpowered and achieves little. Primarily he is played as a hoser against decks like reanimator and Survival decks. In this instances a Withered Wretch is likely a far better alternative as it is better at that specific role. Overall the card feels a little like a level up monster that allows you to use unspent mana to turn an early drop into a late game threat. The problem is that the early body is rarely something a deck wants unlike cards like Lighthouse Chronologist. It is good filler for the cube as it works in many archetypes, all be it as filler, and has powerful effects that can be utterly game winning.

BloodghastBloodghast 3.6
Power 3.3
Support 3.9

I am a huge fan of this card as it works so well with many other black cards. It is not quite as powerful as the newer Gravecrawler however it is much easier to fit into a deck as land is a much more reliable and useful type than zombies...  Bloodghast is fantastic with Skullclamp, Smallpox, Death Cloud, Carrion Feeder, Liliana of the Veil, Smokestack, Braids Cabal Minion, Cabal Therapy and many other lesser cards. It is both a persistent threat and a card that facilitates many card advantage engines all in one. The lack of ability to block is annoying but would make the card completely unfair and is a very sensible design inclusion. The haste effect is minor but nice and convenient when active. It is possible to make use of the Ghast without ever having to pay mana for it which means it is splashable in off colour decks with dedicated amounts of discard outlets. Unless you have a very aggressive deck however you need cards to abuse the recursion as permanantly having a 2/1 that can't block is often pretty irrelevant in longer games games. Only ever played in control when accompanied by an engine to abuse him however an auto include in heavy black agro decks of all sorts.

Dark ConfidantDark Confidant 4.4
Power 4.6
Support 4.3

Many say this is the best creature ever printed and he is very close. In some decks he is pretty perfect however he is a bit dangerous to be considered for any archetype and makes certain cards prohibitively dangerous such as Tomb Stalker. I think Snapcaster Mage is probably the slightly more rounded card and so takes the top spot for creatures but I am struggling to think of other creatures that are more powerful. Confidants other drawback is that he is vulnerable and offers little value when instantly dealt with. Most of the good cheap creatures offer returns even when they are short lived or are powerful in combat which this is neither. Most decks that have low average mana costs, expect to be on higher life totals due to being very agro or ones that can reliably manipulate the top of their libraries will auto include the confidant due to his ridiculous power level. If Confidant sticks in play for a couple of turns things start to get pretty out of hand much like planeswalkers only cheaper. Frequently this guy wont get involved in combat as it will get killed by anything and shut down your stream of cards but this is also totally fine too. Phyrexian Arena is a fine card and at one less mana it is even finer. The average life you lose from this in something like a mono black agro deck is fairly close to that of Phyrexian Arena and can easily be lower. One of the most commonly splashed for black card with its nice convenient single black cost and a card that has been played in more archetypes than not in the cube. You can lose tempo and even card advantage with this guy when you just get him Arc Trailed on sight however you can also gain both, and when you do, particularly on the card advantage side, my good god does it put all other creatures and most other cards to shame in its effectiveness.

Mesmeric FiendMesmeric Fiend 1.0
Power 1.7
Support 0.4

If you look at this as a discard dork it is very weak, and it is also very weak if looked at as a utility value dork. On both accounts I would rather have the humble Ravenous Rats who at least do something permanent and can get two for ones. You don't want to be using the Fiend with Recurring Nightmare or any other kind of value getting sacrifice outlet as it removes almost all of the value of card when it dies. You also don't really want to be playing this in your agro deck as it has so little impact on the board, at best it beats for a pathetic amount but usually just sits there doing nothing scared of all the other creatures that have one or more power. The only time I ever think that Mesmeric Fiend is a good main deck card is when you want to be stalling and can afford to waste cards on doing so. It is fantastic for coming down and really disrupting the curving of your opponent however it rarely gets you any further value, even if they are forced to waste a whole card killing it there is a good chance it cost less than the Fiend or does other things as well as killing it. You may go one for one with it in other words but not all one for ones are of the same value and those with Fiend usually work out in favour of the other player. There are not that many decks that really just want to stall a bit and fewer still that would elect for Fiend over a discard spell. Some combo decks or engine decks are keen to stall but only when they have use of a dork as well or a real aversion to losing life or not being able to hit a specific permanent type do they chose Fiend over alternatives. In all quite a specific narrow card that has few homes and is very easy to misuse.

CarnophageCarnophage 1.8
Power 1.5
Support 2.2

I love me a 2 power dork for 1 and this is one of the classics. It comes with a healthy toughness and a desirable creature type (as far as black creature types go) and is not a huge risk card like many black cards that have life costs. Sadly the card does suffer from being reasonably low value as well as low power level. Against aggressive decks where you are racing you have kindof got a 1/2 in terms of the tempo and when you are not racing your guy loses you lots of tempo if you want to be able to block with it. Even when you are not afraid of losing tempo nor that you will be killed from having paid too much life because you are up against a control deck or something the life cost is still tedious as you want that life to buy cards with later in the game rather than just getting in that extra point of damage. As such he is a staple of basically every single agro black deck. He is also frequently used in combination with blacks other solid 2 power one mana dorks to supplement red, green and blue agro decks that don't have quite the same depth of early dorks that black does. While Carnophage is a country mile away from the power level of Goblin Guide, Delver of Secrets and Wild Nacatl he is made far stronger by having many similar options to him open in black.

Vampire Lacerator
Vampire Lacerator 1.5
Power 1.3
Support 1.7

A twist on the Carnophage but sadly a downgrade. Generally you will pay a little less life for the Vampire than you will Carnophage as agro decks that play these cards will get life totals low. Even so the lack of being able to chose means that it is worse on this factor alone. When you need the life you don't need your opponent to be on any life total in order to get the result you need. Only one life point in every 20 mean anything at all and so paying more life for Carnophage is not relevant as you can always avoid paying the one that matters. Doubling up on effects like this as well starts to get pretty uncomfortable. The other main thing Carnophage has over this dork is the creature type which mattered much less before Gravecrawler showed up. Lacerator is  now always the last pick one drop and often left on the bench in favour of other things. He is the Savannah Lion of black (without all the cool old schoolness) being played only when you really need to bolster your low drops and/or creature counts.

Carrion Feeder
Carrion Feeder 3.4
Power 3.2
Support 3.7

This guy is so underrated by most people yet in my experience is a cornerstone of black aggressive strategies. It is the Wirewood Symbiote of Elves or the Skirk Prospector of Goblins. Black lacks quality monsters, has lots of risky ones and struggles with finding enough low drop dorks. Feeder might not be able to block but he doesn't deal you any pain and can turn off any monster that is starting to cause too much. Simply the ability to sacrifice creatures at will is underrated as it allows you to attack with lots of gribblies into things like Baneslayer without having them gain more than you deal or fizzle effects like Lightening Helix. Feeder works very well with undying on things like Geralf's Messengers or when this dies effects on cards like Black Cat. It is also very useful if you want to run the highly powerful Abyssal Persecutor. Many of blacks disposable creatures have 2 toughness making them hard to Skullclamp away. Feeder is also great to have out so you can set up the most brutal Living Death's. He is a zombie, which is what you want your dorks to be in black and he works wonderfully well with blacks two main agro engine dorks, those being Bloodghast and Gravecrawler. The Crawler in particular you can literally just spend one black mana to put a permanent +1/+1 counter on the Feeder making it a serious problem very quickly, with both you can just comfortably and efficiently grow your feeder as you need it or have the spare activations.

Disciple of the Vault
Disciple of the Vault 1.0 (B cube)
Power 2.6
Support 0.3

Well, he is one of the scariest one drops out there but fitting in precisely one deck rather ruins this guys chances of a high rating. A few convoluted combo decks can employ his as a finisher however these decks are usually bad and mean his only sensible home is of course the irksome affinity deck. He is one of the main threats that make affinity so tenacious and deadly and other than nice filler like Yawgmoth's Will is pretty much the sole reason to play black in affinity. In affinity it offers you some protection and added value when you are hit with mass removal which is one of the few ways to keep affinity in check. It also works as a good surprise finisher when you have any sacrifice outlet. Similar in effect to Cranial plating although more awkward to cast most of the time despite being cheaper. Not too significant as an early drop it will occasionally nibble both in attacks and when you cycle through your Chromatic Stars etc. Pretty important card to support the archetype but painfully narrow both itself and in the cards it supports. While it does wind up in most affinity decks the archetype is by no means bound to it and can easily cope without it. The Tempered Steel version has too much white colour demands to risk many colours and has too few sacrifice mechanisms to make it threatening. Ideally you want two or three to have Diciple being a reliable proactive threat such as Arcbound Ravager plus Atog or Thopter Foundry.

Diregraf GhoulDiregraf Ghoul 2.3
Power 2.2
Support  2.6

While coming into play tapped is quite a serious drawback for Geralf's Messengers this being a one drop makes it matter far less. Black has little ways to make things haste and so ultimately it equates to not being able to block for one turn. With one drop agro monsters there is not usually all that much to be blocking and if there was it isn't all that important. Only late game when you really need a chump is the ability a pain and in these situations you are generally already behind and well out of the stage of the game your cards are designed for. As a simple no frills one drop two power beater this is one of the best going, certainly blacks best. It is the perfect support card being a zombie, costing no life and only one mana. It jumped immediately above Carnophage and Sarcomancy as the first backbone dorks of black agro decks and is always in lists before them although ultimately usually with them too.

GravecrawlerGravecrawler 3.7
Power 3.6
Support 3.8

Although I typically try and wait a while after adding a new card to the cube before reviewing it properly so as to really have seen it in most situations thus affording an informed assessment of the card this black one drop has become such a consistent mainstay that it has already seen more play than many older cards. Before Deathrite Shaman this was the clear best black one drop dork out there and now they perform such different roles that a direct comparison is not easy. Shaman is a utility, ramp and disruption dork while Gravecrawler is a persistent agro dork or an engine mechanism. They are at least both nice interesting cards as you need to build with them in mind to make the most out of them. Gravecrawler is playable as a fairly weak one drop beater however it gets steadily better with each card you add that has some synergy with it. This may seem restrictive however Gravecrawler is easy to by synergic with as sacrifice and discard effects and the zombie creature type all do so and all of which are relatively abundant in black. With just a few other zombies in an agro deck Gravecrawler goes from being weak to being the best of your one drop beaters. It shares a number of it's synergies with Bloodghast which also makes the inclusion of cards like Skullclamp or Smallpox etc significantly more powerful and reliable. Gravecrawler also has the decency to count as casting a spell which unlike the Bloodghast is a bonus for effect like extort and cards like Vengevine and may be used as many times as you have the mana for which works especially well with Carrion Feeder. It is a very neat little package in all, it offers tempo and card advantage for a lovely cost and has a wide array of cards that work well with it increasing its power levels. It goes in three or four different archetypes although they are unsurprisingly quite similar ones. It is a mainstay in mono black agro and frequently crops up in Pox and Necro decks. He also sees play Bx cheap agro decks (although Pox can be Bw or Bg I much prefer the mono version) that just happen to have a couple of zombies in them but these are usually just a mash of two existing yet compatible archetypes such as red deck wins plus mono black agro or white weenie plus mono black agro etc. The final home I think I have seen Gravecrawler performing well in is BG Recurring Nightmare decks, typically those that are also trying to apply some pressure rather than the control orientated ones. It is surprising how many of the good gold BG dorks are also zombies which helps to make the Crawler a reliable reusable sacrificial dork for the Nightmare and any other sac effects you may have in the list. Black was underpowered and rather shallow in the cube for quite some time and its dorks were typically behind most other colours in their power. Gravecrawler is one in a handful of top quality new black cards that have really helped to bring black back to parity with the other colours in recent years.

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