Friday 22 March 2013

Revised Reviews: Black Spells

Slaughter Pact
Slaughter Pact 1.5 (B cube)
Power 1.3
Support 1.8

There are many zero mana black removal spells from Sickening Shoal to the original Contagion, all of which have their own merits and drawbacks. Forcing your opponents to play around the possibility of free disruption accounts for a great deal of the value of these kinds of cards. If they fail to respect to possibility of such cards they can easily be caught with their pants down and throw the game. The other reason you might chose to play more "free" removal than normal removal is for the added tempo boost they are able to offer however Slaughter Pact is much weaker than the others in this department as the cost is simply delayed, not removed. As such the tempo boost from this card is very short lived and often recovered quickly by your opponent as you waste much of a turn repaying your mana debt to the Pact. An upside of the Pact over the other zero mana removal spells is that you don't lose card advantage however this is somewhat defeating the point as you often find you would have been better off with the more simple and efficient Doom Blade. In black decks you frequently have powerful ways to replenish card disadvantage and so shouldn't be too bothered about pitching a card to power out a free removal spell. In the cube three mana is too much to pay for this kind of effect, even if you do get to delay paying it somewhat. Unlike Pact of Negation you cannot run this so effectively in decks that can avoid having to pay the cost by winning before the repayment date. The main advantage Slaughter Pact has over Contagion or Sickening Shoal is that it scales much better against ever bigger monsters however as you face larger threats you typically have more spare mana and as such need a free removal spell far less. Not hitting black creatures is a bit annoying but overall fairly negligible. The downsides rather outweigh the upsides of this card compared against the more efficient standard black removal cards or the other zero mana options. You cannot really use this before turn three which are critical turns in cube games, nor does it offer alternate costs, Contagion you can cast normally for five or pitch a card to get it done for free offering flexibility where as Pact only has one inconvenient method of playing it.  

DisfigureDisfigure 2.5
Power 2.2
Support 3.0

This card really surprised me in how much play it has seen since its quite recent introduction. On the face of it it looks like a poor shock that you can't aim at the dome. However, one mana instant removal is great, the early turns are important and in them mana is tight and creatures are usually small. Disfigure has seen play in almost every kind of black deck that has neither red or white in it. While a less versatile card than Shock, Disfigure is more versatile as a removal spell due to use in combat. Blacks removal tends to be quite situational and disfigure turns out to be one of the least situational in the early game being able to target any monster, if not always killing it alone. Disfigure also enhances the power of blacks edict effects better than any other spot removal black has to offer. Most of the monsters in the cube are cheap utility monsters or card advantage speed bumps to which disfigure is an efficient answer to most of the time. If you have overlooked this card for your cube as under powered I recommend giving it a try. It rounds out black well and is a welcome fit in many an archetype. Since the arrival of Tragic Slip this has seen less play but has not been directly replaced. The Slip is far more powerful but requires rather more support. Typically the Slip will win out for a slot in decks that pack a lot of creatures themselves while Disfigure is the preferred choice of the more control deck that just wants a stand alone reliable cheap removal spell.

SarcomancySarcomancy 2.2
Power 2.1
Support 2.4

A wonderfully designed card and a theme I would like to see further explored. This is one of the best agro black cards and offers great redundancy within the colour. Being a zombie themed card is useful as it is easier to avoid any life loss when the token dies as well as offering support for things like Gravecrawler. Being an enchantment has both perks and downsides but definitely makes the card much more interesting. It is weaker with things like Aether Vial and Vengevine and more vulnerable to bounce effects however to make up for this it has great synergy with cards like Kor Skyfisher helping you to churn out cheap 2/2s or effects like Smokestack where getting two permanents for one mana is a bargain, particularly as one of them doesn't help you by being in play. Sarcomancy is a staple in any agro black strategy and comes with enough synergy potential to crop up in a few less likely places as well. A spot of care in building with him is recommended to fulfil his potential however it isn't much of a loss to the card or your deck if you play him and just ignore all the possible negative synergies he can have. 


Cabal TherapyCabal Therapy 3.0
Power 2.3
Support 3.8

This is one of my all time favourite spells so my rating could be a little biased. Cube being a singleton format makes this card worse, as do certain draft formats done in cube as they limit your information. In constructed formats Therapy was most abusive when opponents drew multiples of the same card and you got cheap and easy two or more for ones. In cube not only is it harder to hit a card it is impossible to hit more than one per cast. Nothing however is more satisfying than working out, from the cards they might be playing, which wreaks you the most and then hitting it blind. Therapy can be a real skill tester and even when you know what is in their hand from a previous discard spell is still generally harder to use than other discard spells as it can hit the most card types. The more Duress style cards you play the better Therapy gets but it does rather call for a deck to want to abuse all aspects of the card for it to really shine. Oath decks often play it in the hope to mill it so that they can instantly sac an Academy Rector. Rock type decks make use of it to get Viridian Emissary or Genesis (or a target for him to remake like an Eternal wWtness) in the bin. Reanimator decks sometime apply it to themselves to get their targets in the bin directly from the hand. Bloodghast and Gravecrawler also make the Therapy easier to use to its full capacity without harming your own tempo or card advantage. As a pure discard spell Therapy is weaker than most of the cube alternatives however it scales really well with your skill and offers lots of added utility that the others do not. Therapy is easier to tutor up than the others or to gain incidental access to via self mill. It offers you a free and useful sacrifice mechanism which is surprisingly desirable in a wide selection of decks. I suspect this card makes very few cube lists yet my fondness for it combined with its utility and synergy ensure I will never be cutting it.

Vampiric TutorVampiric Tutor 3.0
Power 3.4
Support 2.5

A rating of three seems really unfair as this card would have been a comfortable 4.0 when I first started playing cube. As combo decks have become less and less viable due to the speed of aggressive decks and control decks have shied away from card disadvantage as the aggressive monsters get more inbuilt card advantage of their own the Tutor has gradually fallen from grace. This used to be a top three pick in black and a really strong signal, now it comes round late or gets left in the sideboard. Tutor effects are more powerful in singleton formats and one mana instants are as close to optimal as a coloured spell can be. Tutor can fit in almost any deck and does allow decks to be built very differently. Sadly I cannot foresee a return to the dominance of combo in the cube any time soon and so the tutor will remain infrequently called upon. Life is a precious resource for black decks and two is often worth more than one card. The Vampiric Tutor sees more play in decks splashing black than in mono black decks for this reason. Oddly it does get some play in the odd aggressive mono black deck as it is the closest thing black has to cheap card quality like Brainstorm or Faithless Looting. When play single copies of powerful cards you somewhat rely on such as Necropotence or Death Cloud the ability to cheaply get one is huge. Being half the cost and instant, combined with the irrelevance of card disadvantage in most of those situations makes Vampiric Tutor preferable to Demonic in the agro decks. Having mana up at the end of your opponents turn is not uncommon nor overly detrimental and allows you to respond far more quickly than you could with Demonic, you can get what you need for your next turn and not have to pay any extra mana for it on that turn. Despite its decline in power it is still a cube mainstay and a powerful yet well balanced card that requires good choices to be effective. 

ThoughtseizeThoughtseize 3.5
Power 3.6
Support 3.4

This card is really bad against red deck wins. Black is also one of the only colours that really cares about life as it has so many ways to use it as a resource to draw cards. These two occasional downsides make this a very well balanced discard spell with it being the best at that function (unless you are perfect with Cabal Therapy I guess..). Each of the A cube one mana look at their hand and have them discard some card spells are never strictly better or worse than the others and are very even overall. The choice to play which and how many depends entirely on you deck and match ups. Generally they improve one another as you play more (to a point, more than 4 starts to be a touch too much but that isn't easy to do with what is on offer in my cube), particularly Cabal Therapy, however they become quite bad top decks as the game progresses. The targetted discard has wide application in all kinds of deck and with most decks not overly concerned for their life totals this is probably the most played of the lot. It is certainly the most powerful and reliable in its effect with the only downside being the life loss. These kinds of spell are colour defining and are a corner stone of black decks. It is very rare for a black deck not to play a selection of either one mana 2 power dorks or one mana targetted discard spells, many play both. 

Inquisition of Kozilek
Inquisition of Kozilek 3.6
Power 3.5
Support 3.7

This card is the one biting at the heals of thoughtseize only allowing me to say it was probably the most played of the lot. My cube is a very low mana cost meaning that Inquisition hits at least 80% of the cards in the cube. It can hit creatures but is no weaker against decks with no creatures making this the safest discard spell to play when you have no real idea on your match-ups. Thoughtseize is inherently weaker against agro too making Inquisition the safest option overall and the best outright against aggressive decks. Its slightly random nature can be irritating, when you need to hit a counterspell and they haves Force of Will and Cryptic Command for example. This does exactly what you want a discard spell to do early and that is when you want to cast them. When offered a selection of targeting discard spells to play on turn one this is the best. It may not shine so heavily in other cubes with much higher mana costs but then I would strongly advocate against such cube builds as they make for a dull linear and more random experience. As a mid to late game top deck this is one of the less good targetted discard cards to draw however you are playing them to give you early game not to give you late game. While this might be the worst when they are weak you are aiming to play them when they are strong, at which point this is the strongest. 

Dark Ritual
Dark Ritual 3.6 (4.0 in a powered cube)
Power 3.9
Support 3.4

This sort of effect is much better when you have redundancy in it and can rely on seeing it to an extent. The other black spells like this are pretty weak but ritual did enjoy a strong relationship with Black Lotus. Now it has to settle for Lake of the Dead and is less abused as a result. Black is a slow colour but able to refill their hand quite easily making Ritual a perfect card for it both early to power it up and late when you have a new full hand to dump. Red cannot really afford the card disadvantage and therefore the red rituals are far far weaker. Swamp, Dark Ritual, Necropotence is a classic play and remains very strong in cube. Ritual also fuels a Yawgmoth's Will turn very effectively. Any deck that needs to spend a lot of mana fast or can afford/recover card disadvantage will consider Ritual if it is reasonably heav black. Cards and mana are the best two things in magic and this is one of those things. While no Ancestral Recall it is much closer to that end of the spectrum than the Healing Salve end. 

Entomb 2.4
Power 2.8
Support 2.0

If cards like Careful Study are the draw spells of reanimate and other graveyard based decks then Entomb is the Demonic Tutor of them. Certainly it is a narrow card but the cost is spot on allowing for great consistency, redundancy and options in those kinds of deck. They would function without it but would be significantly worse. A big bonus to Entomb is that it is one of the only cheap, good black ways to put things in the bin and allows you to go off really early with things like Dark Ritual. I rate it lower than the reanimate effects as it is relatively ineffective without them. Most other graveyard based decks want to be getting maximum value out of their engine and so use things like Survival of the Fittest and Gifts Ungiven to fill up the yard. Speed is not so essential for those decks, when it is then Entomb is the number one card. The card would still see play as a sorcery but it is a nice little bonus none the less allowing you to hide your play till the last minute or await information for the best route to victory. A last pick card in drafts that don't have a reanimator player but one of the worthy few I think. although decks abusing graveyards as part of their engine tend to prefer cards like Faithless Looting or Intuition to fill up the yard and get going due to the bonus effects they give Entomb is still very effective as a Tutor for a specific card provided you only need it in the bin. The best example of this very occasional use outside of reanimator is again in Auriok Salvagers where you can put your Lions Eye Diamond or Pyrite Spellbomb in the bin and immediately go off. If playing black however the deck still usually plays Reanimate as it gives you loads of options and safety and allows the Entomb to be a tutor for all your combo bits. 

Innocent BloodInnocent Blood 2.1 
Power 2.7
Support 1.6

I may have mentioned that I had been unhappy with both Chainer's Edic and Diabolic Edict in the cube but felt like black should have access to that kind of removal as it gets around shroud, hexproof and indestructible which are all very powerful in the cube. I struggled to chose between the two as both instant and flashback have their advantages. The Edict effect is played but not with great frequency and so does not warrant two slots thus forcing the issue on whether flashback or instant was superior. I have managed to chicken out of making that call by having neither and using Innocent Blood in that role instead. A mana off the cost is definitely better than instant or flashback in this case and so the question becomes "is the symmetrical nature of the card worth halving the cost for?" So far in testing the answer is a comfortable yes. Black has little ramp and so mana saving really helps the deck in the key early stages of the game, typically black is a clunky colour and effective cheap removal smooths things out effectively for it. In addition to this black has lots of ways to make use of sacrificing its own dorks should it have them, Bloodghast will come back again, Black Cat will trigger and Geralfs Messengers will grow. Black even wants its own things dead sometimes as they are starting to hurt too much such as Dark Confidant or Abyssal Persecutor. The best thing about Innocent Blood however is how much it helps black when it is on the draw. Black has many powerful one drop spells like Inquisition of Kozilek however these lose much of their tempo disruption prowess on the draw. Games where you can take thier turn one Bird of Paradise or Goblin Guide as you are on the play are easy wins compared to the loss they can become if the same exact draws are used but the play order is changed. Certainly black has Disfigure and Tragic Slip to perform this role but they tend to scale less well as the game progresses and perform a slightly different role as removal cards. Innocent Blood is very much a control card however it does see some play in cheaper more creature based black decks such as Necropotence. This makes it slightly narrower than either Edict but is sufficiently better in its role that is sees more play than both Edicts ever did.

Tragic SlipTragic Slip 3.6
Power 3.5
Support 3.8

The more I have played with and against this the more I am appreciating its power and subtlety. At first I overlooked it and gave it an atrocious C cube spot but my subconscious being a better judge than I had it thrown it in to test with all the other marginal cards from that set. Quickly I realised it was not only comparable to Disfigure but generally outperforming it too. I would now go so far as to say it was the 4th best spot creature removal spell in the cube after the obvious white Path and Plow and the versatile Lightening Bolt, which purely as creature kill is inferior to Slip, apparently planeswalkers have a greater sense of balance. As you might have noticed the theme of good removal is being a one mana instant. The efficiency calculations make it quite easy to see why one mana is so good compared to two or three. Convenience, security and trickery are why instant speed is of such high value. Brimstone Volley was a powerful morbid card that I eventually cut for being too unreliable on the morbid trigger. A lot of this was down to the cost being so much more than with Tragic Slip. Assume that on average it costs one mana to generate a morbid trigger your Volley is starting to look a lot less exciting at 5 damage for 4 mana while slip is still looking like blacks best removal spell. Volley was therefore only good when you happened upon a convenient free morbid trigger while Tragic Slip is well worth engineering the trigger for as well as much easier to do so with its lower cost. So why is it better than Disfigure or even the consistent Doom Blade? Compared to Disfigure it is the scaling of the card that really makes it shine. Disfigure is slightly better than Tragic Slip on turns one to three, most significantly on turn two (there are not that many one drops Disfigure hits and Slip doesn't and by turn three morbid is getting very likely). Slip is far from useless in these early stages of the game and can just as easily slot into your curve and have a huge effect on the game. With morbid triggered which generally just gets easier as the game goes on Slip is a really serious removal spell and kills basically every monster out there (excluding those dorks that no spot removal can target which hardly marks it down when comparing it with other spot removal). Black is the easiest colour in which to trigger morbid with lots of removal and ways to usefully sacrifice your own critters too. Late game therefore it does not suffer what all other black removal seems to do, either fail to cope with fat men like Smother and Disfigure or fail to hit certain targets like other black dudes or artifacts. Slip has no self imposed restrictions and is cheaper to boot than Doom Blade or Go for the Throat and while it may not exile cards (like the more apt comparisons of Path and Plow) it does deal with regenerate and indestructible things aptly. Fulfilling the role of Disfigure is very much the secondary role of this card and should be thought of more like including a Path to Exile in your deck, albeit a slightly more awkward one. It is very nice when you do use it early but you are more than happy to be holding it to the later game. The real test will now be to see if Disfigure retains its cube slot in light of this card which can substitute in for its role but perform better ones too.

Raven's CrimeRaven's Crime 2.5
Power 2.7
Support 2.3

As a one mana discard spells this rarely gets a look in with so many much better options for black. Giving them the choice of what to discard typically means you are wasting you whole first turn and all the resources you get from it to, at best, disrupt their fourth turn a little. As a Mind Twist however Raven's Crime starts to look a bit more interesting. While it requires lands to fuel it there are lots of decks which easily accrue large quantities of disposable lands one of which is any deck with Necropotence. It is quite easy to get to a stage where you can empty an opponents hand then lock them down to either playing each draw immediately or losing it. The Crime has found itself a selection of various homes where it is taking the place of clunkier one hit wonder cards like Mind Twist which greatly surprised me. The control, longevity and mana efficiency of Raven's Crime seem to combine to make it more powerful at much the same job in a number of decks. One of this is simply mono black agro where you have little use for excess lands. In these decks you less often lock them out or one shot their hand as you have less reliable ways of getting loads of cards but you do get tremendous value from it. I mentioned Necro decks (mono black agro usually also has Necropotence but it is not the same archetype as a Necro deck) where it is a powerful control card and dominates other control decks and severely damages combo decks. It is very easy with the black tutors to set up a Necro Crime lock against a deck applying little pressure. The final home I have seen for the Crime is in Life from the Loam decks which are typically blue and green but can end up with any selection and number of colours. In these decks the heavy black requirement makes it a bit slower to abuse however this is offset somewhat by the synergy it has with Gifts Ungiven and Life from the Loam. A surprisingly good little card although not to get confused with the likes of Thoughtseize or Duress as it plays a completely different role.

Duress 3.0
Power 2.8
Support 3.2

Probably the narrowest of the targetted discard spells in the cube. Duress makes up for this with reliability and consistency at what it does, mostly guaranteeing to take a counterspell from their hand if they have one. Hitting planeswalkers and equipment has helped to keep this card playable against agro even if still the weakest discard spell choice for the match-up overall. Duress is most happy in combo decks but can find a home in any black deck you care to mention. Whether Duress is included in the discard package for control or aggressive decks will entirely depend on what the deck is weak against and what match-ups are anticipated. Blackmail, Raven's Crime and Despise have all been tried in the A cube and were found to be weaker and narrower than Duress and overkill on the quantity. No 40 card deck wants to be playing 6 or more one mana discard spells, 4 is hard to support in most decks. I am sure we will see more cards of this nature, the next good one could join the others or replace duress depending on what it does but I cannot envisage a card that would replace any of the other current targetted discard. 

ReanimateReanimate 2.8
Power 3.4
Support 2.3

I have had the reanimate trilogy of this, Exhume and Entomb in my A cube since I first made it and only just took them out for the first time just before starting this blog. The reanimate deck is one of the easiest, most diverse and reliable combo decks that the cube can support. There is good redundancy in the effects, some very spicy targets to bring back and a lot of support from cards that would be found in the cube regardless of the archetype such as Frantic Search. Reanimate is narrow in that it is really only much good in combo decks however the power and versatility of that archetype is sufficient to allow Reanimate a high rating. I took the cards out primarily to keep things fresh although with the prevalence of creature based decks there was always lots of bounce and removal to ensure reanimator decks had a really hard time of things. Interesting new fatties like Griselbrand and red opening up with Faithless Looting demanded the hasty return of the core trilogy. Since its return it has proved to be one of the most resilient combo decks and has simply adjusted to cope better with removal by using cards like Myr Battlesphere to gain value through removal, Goblin Welder and Recurring Nightmare to allow repeat reanimations and Spellskite to protect the threats. The life cost can make late game use awkward but the bargain cost of one makes up for this comfortably allowing for abusively quick use and making it the best of the reanimation options. It is easy to get dorks in the bin, and most dorks at one mana are pretty good value which is quite a good way to appreciate the strength of this card in a more isolated sense. It is also powerful enough to crop up outside the various reanimate specific archetypes and has been used in the rock to reuse utility dorks and other combo decks like Auriok Salvagers. For a combo piece it is not the narrowest card but it still only has a few homes.

Exhume 2.6
Power 3.2
Support 2.0

The next best thing to Reanimate and often more desirable due to no life cost. Two mana is a lot more than one but is still really rather cheap and still just costs one black mana. It is easier to go off turn one with Reanimate than Exhume but not that much easier, and for the more consistent turn two use Exhume is generally just better. Exhume is not exclusive in the two slot for reanimation and has to compete with Animate Dead, Death (as in half of Life) and Dance of the Dead. Death is just a strictly worse versions of Reanimate and both the enchantment effects are much easier to disrupt than the sorcery versions. Being able to target other graveyards is cool and quirky but barely ever relevant and not worth consideration for inclusion in this archetype. Sometimes Exhume can be awkward because it allows them to recur a guy which happens to be bad for you but this is a late game occurrence and you shouldn't be winning those games much anyway. It is better to increase your consistency in going off than covering for the late game in a combo deck such as reanimator. The majority of the time they get back nothing and when they do it is largely irrelevant. Reanimate and Exhume have been a happy pair in many formats and remain so in the cube. Exhume is far less commonly found outside of reanimator decks as you can't use it in places like the rock to get back a mid game Eternal Witness without offering up to much tempo to your opponent.

Bad Moon
Bad Moon 1.0 (B cube)
Power 1.8
Support 0.4

I deeply dislike this card in the cube as it only fits in one deck - mono black agro. This makes it very narrow and, unlike Crusade it has no redundancy worth consideration, nor is mono black agro as variable, varied or as powerful as white weenie decks. Black used to need to the moon to be viable as it had few decent dorks to choose from, many of which are generic one mana 2/2s. It has far far less options of powerful creatures at its disposal than pretty much every other colour and has less good ways to improve those creatures such as Rancor, Stoneforge Mystic etc. to call on. The generic two power one mana dorks beg for a card like this. 3/3 is a significant jump on a 2/2 in the cube, as so many guys are 2/2 and smaller combat starts to heavily lean in your favour. Black has consistently been gaining cube worthy dorks that increase its depth and power over the last few years. This has freed black from its reliance on this narrow and clumsy card. Although easier to cast than Crusade it is fairly irrelevant as it is only going in mono black decks which cannot have many colourless lands anyway due to so many of their other spells. It also pumps all black creatures which is ever more annoying with viable black hybrid guys going in many non-black decks and things like germ tokens conveniently being black too. This annoyance is compounded by the fact a chunk of your removal will not work on black creatures. Mostly it is weaker than the white equivalents because black decks have a lower creature count so as to be able to abuse blacks abundant discard and removal effects and cards like Necropotencce, Dark Ritual, Yawgmoth's Will etc. Bad Moon is not a threat on its own and in a deck already slightly light on threats this is problematic.

Demonic Tutor
Demonic Tutor 4.0
Power 3.9
Support 4.2

The benchmark for tutor effects, it has no drawback, no stipulations and is a bargain at two mana. The only decks where this is not an auto include are the very aggressive ones full of redundancy as the two mana is a setback to them. Even then as they are black they often run Necropotence for which Tutor offers more affordable redundancy than Yawgmoth's Bargain does. Tutor also allows you to be a little riskier on land count and run less redundancy in your specific answer cards freeing up slots for action cards. Tutor is at its best in combo decks but will see play in almost anything black and is one of the few black only cards that gets splashed into decks. Frequently played in decks with good synergy cards like the Recurring Nightmare rock decks as it helps to set up your engine better and smooth out the deck, even if the deck is not reliant on the combo. With Vampiric Tutor you really need to have essential cards to go and find to offset the card disadvantage and life loss. Demonic can be thrown into decks without a need of Tutor effects as the most damage it can cause you is the loss of two mana, which isn't insignificant but pails in comparison to having exactly what you want. Vampiric Tutor steals occasional slots from the Demonic for its better tempo  however most of the time Vampiric is played it is in combination with Demonic in combo decks.

Bitterblossom 2.5
Power 2.8
Support 2.2

Most cards in the cube are of a comparable power level when played in the cube as they are outside of it in the various constructed formats. A few cards really shine in the cube that have never seen much success outside of it. Some cards such as Accumulated Knowledge simply don't work properly in the cube and see no play as a result. Very few cards are in the cube but are much less exciting than they have been in other constructed formats. With the low rating and all that preamble I sure you can guess that Bitterblossom is one of those cards. Black has loads of uses for life and while the cost of this card is certainly good it is still a very slow card. Generally black will see a more immediate return on their investment of life than Blossom can offer making it too painful a choice. In the agro decks it is the slow nature of the spell and in more control decks it is the life loss that ultimately sidelines the card. It has pleasant synergy in some regards with sacrifice effects and Bad Moon and it does see a decent amount of play. It is only really good as a different threat to pose against control decks on top of walkers, guys and man lands etc to tax their removal options. One of the best homes for this card is essentially a white weenie deck that splashes black for a few juicy cards such as Vindicate and Dark Confidant. I think the best synergy for this card is with Cataclysm, particularly as white is so indifferent to the life loss. It is also a mainstay in the faeries archetype however several of the narrow yet key cards for that are in the B cube such as Mistbind Clique making it not an option in draft. This is because the faeries deck only has a couple of cards that benefit from the tribal synergy and so generally is just a more restricted version of a skies deck despite many of the component cards of the deck being in the cube on their own merit. In summary, Bitterblossom is a pain for control decks to deal with and is most effective against planeswalkers however it doesn't sit well in many black decks at all for being far too slow and painful, and is best as a splash for white or blue decks. 

SinkholeSinkhole 3.7
Power 3.9
Support 3.5

Rather good but rather bland as with many of the earliest overpowered spells. Sinkhole is at its best on turn two while on the play. Later on in the game it is often fairly dead unless they happen to have a particularly annoying utility land. In this respect it is quite like the one mana targetted discard spells, very powerful early but getting progressively worse as the game progresses to the point of basically being a dead draw against most matchups. Because of the difficulty in casting it when optimal it rarely sees play outside of mono black decks. Despite this Sinkhole has two distinct archetypes as homes which is more than enough for a card of this power. These homes are Pox style decks and very fast aggressive decks however it has also seen some seen play in BW, BG and BR decks. Classic land destruction decks trying to cast things like stone rain are way too slow to be viable in the cube leaving only global effects with enough power. Sinkhole is the only spell that kills a single land and does nothing else in the cube for this reason which can make it harder to usefully include in decks. Despite all this, particularly without the Moxen and other power, Sinkhole is a card that will outright win you at least one game per cube, often more. Whenever you get it early against a deck which slightly hiccoughs for land in colour or quantity there is a high chance that the single land kill will put them too far behind to ever recover. Free wins are nice but a little dull and so I tend to only play this when it fits with my decks strategy however that is almost certainly wrong, my advice is to 100% of the time play Sinkhole if you have no colour mana concerns at all. At three mana you tend to put yourself behind in tempo with land destruction. Two mana however is a world of difference that seems to put you immediately ahead in the early game. 

Hymn to Tourach
Hymn to Tourach 3.6
Power 3.8
Support 3.4

There are some reasonable comparisons between this and Sinkhole. They are both well undercosted, they are both fairly restricted to heavy black decks and they both shine earlier in the game with the possibility of being dead later on. I am not a huge fan of random effects and this is one of the more brutal. Cast on turn two there is a good chance that hitting one or two of a few key cards will be game over. More often than not it is losing the land that spells disaster. At its best this card is far more powerful than double Coercion (mana cost aside) and at its worst it is just two Raven's Crimes. A swing of power that extreme, over which there is no control, on a card still very much good enough for the cube does mean the card is pretty tedious to play with, and against. If a player could exclude any number of lands they chose from the random discard then the card would be much more balanced. As it stands it will often just get chucked into a deck that can support it just for the few free wins you will get from it gibbing your opponents, much like Stripmine and Sinkhole would do. Also, like Sinkhole it is a powerful effect that would normally costs you tempo to use but due to its rather undercosted price   causes minimal damage. The Hymn is also one of the cheapest high power two for ones out there which is something it has over Sink Hole. While more reliable, Hymn is not quite as powerful a 2 for 1 as Arc Trail as it doesn't come with the tempo boost. For this reason Hymn is better against control decks however it is perfectly decent against agro matchups. The trick with using Hymn against agro is to cast it at the last possible opportunity that you have where it will hit two cards. This allows you more time to make tempo based plays earlier on to stay in the game and makes it more likely you take out their most serious top of curve threats. You still always play Hymn on turn two if you have nothing else to spend your mana on regardless of matchup. 

SmallpoxSmallpox 3.3
Power 3.9
Support 2.8

After Balance this is about the most powerful effect in the game for less than four mana (total mana that is, Pernicious Deed is otherwise and is very close anyway. The card is a mainstay in all black based pox style decks. Pox itself is rarely played with this, Deathcloud, Braids and Smokestack all generally being easier to abuse. Smallpox has fantastic synergy with black in general as it often wants discard outlets and sacrifice mechanisms. Assuming your deck is built to cope with the symmetrical nature of this card it becomes incredibly powerful and versatile. Basically it is a Chainer's Edict or a Sinkhole or a Raven's Crime or even just a ping to the dome. Not only can you use the card for one of these effects to gain advantage but when correctly engineered you will be able to take advantage from more than just one aspect of the card. It is greatly satisfying to cast this on turn two while on the play when your opponent has made one land and one creature on their turn so as to completely de-permanent them. You do need to rather heavily build your deck around effects like this for them to work and cannot simply throw it into any old list. Despite this it gets a healthy amount of play due to the good redundancy and synergy to be found for it in the cube along with the various forms of disruption it offers being some of the most effective in magic. 

Doom BladeDoom Blade 3.4
Power 3.2
Support 3.7

This little spell had worked its way up to the slot of best black removal spell only to be knocked right back out by Tragic Slip. Doom Blade is reliable, consistent and can be thrown into any old list without much worry. I deeply dislike the inability of the card to hit black monsters although it is rarely relevant, if you are in a colour it reduces the number of people it can support therefore you will face less of it in your rounds. This is the most so with black where most uses for the colour are as a tiny splash or a mono deck. Most of the time I find you have one mono black drafter and one or two others splashing it for a few cards, usually not creatures. If you are the mono player then this shouldn't be dead for you and if you are one of the splash players there will only be one matchup where this is bad. I also hate the way white has two removal spells that tower above this in power level. Such is life and we must make do with the weaker options. While black creature removal has not increased all that much in power since the dawn of magic the immense increase in power level of creatures in that time has made that removal much more useful and playable. It is rare I will build any black based deck and not at least consider the Doom Blade, most of the time it will make the final list too. Most decks play creatures and most of them are pretty good so you will be happy to be drawing this even though so many monsters will net some advantage for the caster without ever getting to combat. When your not white and you want to be getting stuff dead without much fuss this this the card. It scales well this size of target, is cheap and instant with minimal colour requirements and simply gets the job done at a fair price. 

Go for the ThroatGo for the Throat 3.1
Power 3.0
Support 3.3

Most of the time this is just Doom Blade. When Doom Blade is good it is Terminate but easier to cast, when it is bad it is usually completely dead. Go for the Throat can still wind up dead against artifact decks as a Doom Blade can against black decks however there are way more decks that have the odd artifact than their are that have the odd black creature. This means most of the time Go for the Throat won't hit every guy in their deck unlike Doom Blade which most of the time will. That extra little bit of inconsistency makes Go for the Throat significantly weaker than Doom Blade and used only to give redundancy to a deck already playing it or when you know you are facing a a high percentage of black decks. I can't get too excited about cards like this, they are required in many decks and get the job done most of the time. Cheap instant targetted removal is always a useful thing to have as an option and almost all decks play guys these days. Tragically this is probably blacks second best targetted kill spell as it is not concerned about creature size or cost. It just seems so unfair when red has multi purpose removal and white gets substantially better removal while black gets more expensive situational removal. If playing blind I do prefer Go for the Throat to Doom Blade if I am splashing my black as it won't be completely dead in one of my games.

Chainer's EdictChainer's Edict 1.6 (B cube)
Power 1.5
Support 1.8

I have always flip-flopped between the card advantage from Chainer's Edict and the instant speed of Diabolic Edict. The cube does not have room for both as they are not often played. Black has a number of ways to force creatures to be sacrificed and all are sorcery speed except the Diabolic Edict which is a reasonable argument for it over this. Either way these one for one (at a reasonable cost) enforced sacrifice spells are not all that good in the cube. Most decks with creatures either run many utility creatures that will have already provided most of their effect or lots of cheap gribbly beaters. While edicts are the only single removal spells capable of dealing with many of the creatures in the cube they are hard to engineer a game state where they can be used to do that. Most of the time randomly killing their worst monster is not worth the card or the mana. Best played against reanimator combos and control decks or in decks using mass removal. In less powerful and slower formats Chainer's Edict shines however in cube it affords far too much choice for your opponent to be very powerful. Cards like Liliana and Death Cloud are vastly better ways of including the coverall removal of forcing a sacrifice as they have much more scope and wind up dead or of overly low impact far less often. The Edict effects have the merit of being non-specific like so many of blacks other removal but this doesn't stop them being very weak in some matchups which amounts to the same problem, yet on a weaker card. 

Smother 1.4 (B cube)
Power 1.3
Support 1.6

Smother hits most guys in the cube and is never dead against certain colours or archetypes like Doom Blade and Go for the Throat are. The problem with it, a little like with the Edicts is that it often isn't hitting the best monster. The card this is actually most comparable to in the cube is Disfigure. Neither can kill the bigger more expensive monsters and tend to fill the role of cheap early removal to retain tempo. In this Disfigure tends to win out for being cheaper and of some use against monsters it cannot kill even though Smother will kill more of the monsters in the field. If you compare Smother to one of the Edicts it comes up a little less favourably as it does not have the capability to deal with hex proof, shroud or indestructible monsters despite being better at killing the required weaker monsters on the board when lots of things are in play. All in all I don't think that Smother really has any homes left as the other removal spells all do things a bit better. It is all pretty marginal though.

Dismember 1.9
Power 1.8
Support 2.1

I was previously very harsh to this card and gave it a pitiful rating not quite seeing how it fitted in to the cube. I was being very rigid with my view of the spell which is exactly how this card shouldn't be viewed. I took each colour in isolation as thought about how Dismember could help them and came to the conclusion only green would have any interest in the card as red, white and black all have better options. In black it is the best as it has great flexibility in how you cast it however you rarely want to pay life you don't have too in black so I rather ruled it out there. Even blue has preferable ways to deal with dorks and no great desire to throw chunks of life away.Having narrowed the potential homes down to being green based decks with their lack of removal and content to pay life I still found my self not wanting it on those sorts of deck and relegated Dismember to the B cube but this was wrong. Where Dismember really begins to shine is in something like a white weenie deck with a tiny splash of black. This gives you all the flexibility in casting costs that you get in a heavy black deck without the burden of life loss harming your other cards. You also get a card you can happily play that you won't be colour screwed for yet can still sort you out against awkward things like pro white guys. In cube you can to an extent blend many of the various archetype and have a good functioning hybrid deck and in those the flexibility of Dismember really gives it a lot of gas. It is also a really nice card to pick up early in a draft that limits your commitment yet leaves you with lots of options. As black removal goes it kills almost everything costing 4 or less with no restriction on creature colour or type and still works in combination with some combat at dealing with the problem five and six drop threats. Dismember is broad and versatile removal that can be played anywhere but found to be best in the decks with somewhere in the region of two to seven black mana sources. 

NecropotenceNecropotence 4.0
Power 4.7
Support 3.4

Another of my favourite magic cards complete with great art, great power and pleasant nostalgia (I started playing in Ice Age and played Necro (badly) in my first tournament). Necro is quite a hard card to fit into a deck but is well worth it when you do. As far as raw card drawing power Necro is basically the best you can do for the mana. The drawbacks of the card are numerous so as to slightly balance the card. Skipping the draw step is only relevant after the life loss takes its toll as it can lock you out of the game, as well as a minor tempo loss. The life loss in general is not a real concern unless against aggressive red decks.  You start with 20 and only need one. A potential to get 19 cards for 3 mana puts Ancestral Recall to shame. You tend to have won well before you have sent 19 life into cards. The main thing to consider is when it is safe to make a Necro when under pressure and how many cards you are able to get without putting yourself on an unrecoverable clock. Access to life gain is useful in decks with Necro but does not need to be that overdone, a Zuran Orb and a Vampire Nighthawk would be more than sufficient for most games. Ivory Tower is a great card in this role too but has few other homes without Necro and so is no longer in the A cube. The removing cards from the game stops Necro being a good way to fill up your graveyard with things you want to reanimate or otherwise. Beyond that the exile aspect of the card just denies certain combos utilising it rather than making it worse in decks that use it as it is. The most significant drawback as far as I am concerned is how it gives all your draws summoning sickness making your response time to things somewhat slower. While a little annoying to use with card arriving at the end of turn it makes the card much more interesting and complicated to properly use. Having access to cards that can remove Necro such as Nevinyrral's Disk with it is nice so you can recommence drawing when your life total is getting low or just after a complete hand refill in the mid to late game. Typically played in mono black decks due to the triple black cost but more deadly in decks of more colour if able to cast. Best in decks with lots of cheap cards so as to be able to play more and thus draw more cards with the Necro quickly without exceeding seven cards in hand.

Recurring Nightmare
Recurring Nightmare 4.2
Power 4.0
Support 4.6

The way in which my cube is evolving is making the Nightmare better and better. Most creatures have either a comes into play effect or a when this dies effect. The ratio of creatures to spells is ever increasing as is their power. Recurring Nightmare is a cornerstone card in many different decks, typically having best synergy with green and white. Less commonly found in pure agro decks it can still find a home in more techy agro builds, primarily it is used in slower decks or combo decks such as reanimator. It offers all the usual useful things such as a good sacrifice outlet and the ability to reuse effects you have little redundancy for due to the singleton format. Although it doesn't guarantee card advantage the kinds of creatures that are played with it ensure that you will either be getting card advantage or vast mana advantage. The card this is most comparable to is Birthing Pod however while they offer a similar effect the process is somewhat different and so the cards never compete for a slot. Often they are complimentary to one another and offer redundancy to abuse your card advantage monsters. Genesis is another card that fulfils some of the same roles. Genesis is robust against counterspells and does not require the sacrifice of creatures to use but is worse in all other ways. Often you want to be sacrificing monsters anyway. Nightmare is powerful enough that you build your deck noticeably around it and so unlike most other cards that require specific aspects of your deck to be tailored towards it the rating does not suffer. Other cards of this power include Skullclamp, Tinker and Goblin Welder. As the requirements to abuse Nightmare are abundant in the cube, much more so than for Goblin Welder or Tinker, it is far easier to include in decks and to draft.

Liliana of the Veil
Liliana of the Veil 4.1
Power 3.9
Support 4.3 

This is the best new planeswalker to grace the cube since Jace, the Mind Sculptor, blacks best walker and the best three mana walker too. Liliana has good synergy with black being able to make good use of the discard outlet effectively in a variety of different styles. Liliana is also capable of protecting herself with the edict effect and at only three mana she can come down early, clear the board and then steadily grow to win the game. Planeswalkers that have no means of protecting themselves are generally too weak for the cube as they are generally quite expensive sorceries. Koth of the Hammer gets away with it for being super aggressive (and is quite weak anyway) and Jace Beleren is also playable due to being cheap and having a +2 loyalty effect allowing him to take a few hits. A walker at three mana with self protection capabilities and useful growing abilities is always going to see play and Liliana does not disappoint. She is great against control and decent against agro and combo, she also fits into most of those types of deck too. Her ultimate is one of the least certain ones of all the walkers to win the game although it is still pretty likely if you do manage to get it off. On top of this it is one of the cheaper ultimates at only 6 loyalty. All in all Liliana is a very well rounded cost effective planewalker that sees play in almost all heavy black decks. 

Yawgmoth's Will
Yawgmoth's Will 4.0 (4.6 in a powered cube)
Power 4.2
Support 3.7

In the early days of cube Will was honorary power and was picked alongside cards like Timetwister and Moxen. In the late game there are few top decks more likely to straight up win you the game than Will. When compared to the gain in cards from things like Timetwister and Wheel of Fortune you not only have prior knowledge of what you will be able to cast but you also don't give your opponent a big pile of new cards either. These are both huge advantages that are a little offset by needing to make use of the cards in your graveyard in one turn only and needing to have them there in the first place. Typically you want to use the huge card advantage spells as the last things you cast and so these minor drawbacks are least noticeable when Will is optimally used. The reason Will is so abusive with access to the power is mostly just Black Lotus which is highly unfair and allows much quicker abuses of Will. The other fast mana from Moxen and Sol Ring helps too but doesn't have quite the same synergy. Dark Ritual and Lake of the Dead are still available and work similarly to Black Lotus if not quite so well. The cheaper your deck the better Yawmoth's Will becomes making it far better in combo and agro decks than control. In combo Will is especially useful as it is a generic recursion spell in black which typically is only able to recur creatures. In singleton formats the ability to get back a key card is pretty huge, the fact that this is neatly bolted on to a hugely efficient card advantage spell compounds the cards power. It also has good synergy with storm decks but does run the risk of you wiffing after having exiled key spells with it. It is always worth noting which cards will work effectively when under the effects of a Will, For example Chromatic Sphere is significantly better than Chromatic Star as the latter has its card drawing ability turned off. Affinity is the best agro deck to abuse it for fairly obvious reasons. Black has enough depth and power of dorks and disruption that it now doesn't always play the Will in its most agro mono decks as it is a bad card to see in your opener and tends to lower your curving out consistency. A big name in cube that has seen better days but remains a cornerstone of any cube. 

Phyrexian ArenaPhyrexian Arena 2.0
Power 2.3
Support 1.8

A solid spell with a history of popping in and out of the cube. Black has lots of ways to pay life for cards and Arena is very middle of the road with few drawbacks compared to the others but also having nothing to make it the best in some respect. It is a very slow card advantage spell that costs you lots of tempo to use, both as it puts you on a slow clock itself and as it is a three mana sorcery with no immediate board impact. It is easier to cast than Necropotence and allows you to keep your normal draw however takes much longer to recover the loss of tempo from casting it due to the slow trickle of new cards. Typically only played in control and midrange decks which cannot easily risk the more powerful Necropotence and Dark Confidant. It is also rare to find it in a BU deck as the card draw options blue has, although somewhat dissimilar, are safer and better. It is the kind of card I play because I have a hole in my deck rather than I card I actively want to include, it is a clunky necessity sometimes and although I am not thrilled to be playing it I often find I am very glad when I resolve it.

Damnation 3.5
Power 3.3
Support 3.8

Wrath of God in black is a pleasant treat and gives black one of the most effective ranges of creature kill. White has the largest abundance of mass removal and red has a wide array of costs for its mass removal effects. However all red ones deal damage and most white ones are destroy effects (barring Terminus). With Damnation black has -X/-X, sacrifice and good destroy effects available to it. Without Damnation black would suffer a little like red does with cheap but highly situational mass removal and overcosted more certain mass removal. Having a range of ways to kill things complete with good tutor effects allows black to control creature decks with mass removal better than any other colour despite the extra redundancy white has. Damnation, as with Wrath of God is the best and most reliable all round mass removal you can get which allows few creatures to escape and costs a reasonable amount. Damnation is a key card in black and blue black control decks, it crops up in the odd slower combo deck and a great time saver and out card, I have even seen it played to good effect in the most extreme control builds of the rock. In black where there is less redundancy of quality wrath effects the value of Damnation goes up with it being in demand for all black control decks and a few others too. One of the problems with Wrath in white is that it has very few instant removal effects to support it and can lose to man lands and other things that avoid sorcery speed removal. Black can support the wrath more effectively with an array of spot removal, tutors and so forth all of which leave Damnation as the better cube card than Wrath of God. 

Nether Void
Nether Void 1.5 (B Cube)
Power 2.3
Support 0.8

Perpetual Gloom for all and sundry is what this card brings to the game. Black has the best tools to really abuse this card with the ability to pull cheaper cards out of the hand before getting to cast them and hitting lands with Sinkhole and Smallpox. Black also has some very cheap yet powerful threats such as Bitterblossom or Nantuko Shade or threats that don't need casting like Bloodghast. The thing I have found is that the support cards are enough on their own and that Nether Void tends to end up being a win more card or dead weight in your hand wishing it were a threat or a removal spell. Artifact decks are another natural home for the Void with their fast mana however those are already fairly inconsistent decks that suffer too much by putting in situational cards. Four is also a bit too steep and allows too much to happen before it comes down making cards like Sphere of Resistance much better in this sort of role.

Hatred 1.5
Power 2.6
Support 0.6

Often dead and when it is not it is still a very good way to let your opponent have a free win. The scary drawbacks of Hatred aside, when it works you win, right there and then, game over. It is not all that fun or all that clever but it is fairly well balanced as game winners go. Five mana would be a bit much for this kind of effect in most other colours as it obviously only goes in cheap agro creature decks however black is much more likely to pack moxes as it can easily regain the lost card advantage and it also has Lake of the Dead and Dark Ritual to power up the mana. The old turn one dork, turn two Hatred the dork and kill you play is quite a reasonable threat in cube which is the redeeming feature of Hatred. It may end some games abruptly and tediously however it adds to the game by being a potential threat even when it is not there and gives you interesting choices when you have it. Do you risk all for the easy turn two win or is your hand and matchup good enough to play this out normally with what would be a close to dead card in hand? It is only really playable in mono black agro decks and is not played by them often. In some ways it is like Overrun but it is much riskier, narrower and harder to set up versus a lot of archetypes. 

Living Death
Living Death 2.5
Power 2.9
Support 2.2

An extremely powerful effect that is not all that hard to set up. It is a little too unpredictable to see play in decks not designed around it with a selection of discard outlets, ways to sacrifice creatures in play and ideally ways to take things out of the opponents graveyard too. The Rock can easily achieve these ends and can be built to make good use of the card although this has fallen out of favour simply because Birthing Pod is newer and therefore more fun. Typical reanimator decks are also well equipped to pack Living Death and don't really even need to worry about what their opponents might get back as they won't have killed much and will have way better dorks coming back. It serves as a really good backup plan should your cheap single target reanimation attempts not get the job done. I have not yet seen a dedicated turbo Living Death style combo deck which doesn't surprise me as it would be far less robust than either of the other homes for Living Death and a clear tier 2 deck complete with loads of dregs from the C cube.You can even use it in decks like goblins or affinity should you wish as you have so many free sacrifice mechanisms to get all your guys in the bin for the one sided wrath plus all your guys from the whole game back. It is a bit risky and somewhat top end overkill and cards like Yawgmoth's Will and Siege-Gang Commander tend to be much better things on those slots or roles for the respective decks. A very high powered effect that despite its symmetry is far easier to abuse than most symmetrical cards. You do need to build with it in mind but you have a wide range in which to do this and it is not that taxing on your deck overall.

Sorin Markov
Sorin Markov 2.9
Power 3.5
Support 2.4

Sorin has been rather overshadowed by Grave Titan in the 6 slot and doesn't see all that much play any more. When he was first added he was getting played in all but the most agro of black decks and dominating a lot of games. His extravagant 6 mana cost complete with triple black requirements would be quite prohibitive in most other colours but with Lake of the Dead and Dark Ritual Sorin is suitably playable and feels more like a 5 mana walker in white or blue. Sorin is a very nicely rounded walker and does a lot of things black really wants. Life gain is huge in black and usually equates to more cards. Being able to kill little critters, reduce other walkers faster than they can grow or just nibble away while gaining  life and throwing two extra loyalty on Sorin is a huge tempo swing and an ideal option for black. Making a Life total 10 is quirky and is useful more often than you might expect. Gaining infinite life is not unheard of in the cube for which this is a good answer, sometimes it even just speeds up a kill by several turns when the game swings in your favour. The ultimate is quite easy to pull off with Sorin growing so effectively and protecting himself well and gives black a lot of ways to deal with things it otherwise struggles with by using your opponents cards to get the job done for you perhaps with a Disenchant they handily had for you. You need to engineer these situations carefully and it is hard to get off but still makes you feel safer having outs and options at your disposal. Like most ultimates using it tends to seal the deal although the few uses of the +2 ability have quite a lot to do with that as well. Controlling your opponents turn can be immediately game over should they have something like a Necropotence in play, it can be ruinious if they have a Zuran Orb, and at the very worst it is more than a Time Walk. It comes on line quickly after laying Markov and conveniently doesn't kill him assuming he hasn't been hit. It is also not that risky to leave him on 1 loyalty if you are taking all the next few turns. Having now played a bit with Sorin's smaller golden incarnation I am not too concerned about this Sorin losing slots due to the other getting them as the Lord of Innistrad is never played over Elspeth at present. Markov is rather under rated and while not the best planeswalker is still just about in the top 10 walkers which is a powerful place to be. 

Yawgmoth's BargainYawgmoth's Bargain 3.2
Power 4.4
Support 2.2

When combo was more common and the cube was powered Bargain was better than Necropotence. As creature decks have dominated the doubly expensive mana cost of Bargain over Necro does not outweigh the advantages Bargain offers. Bargain gives you your cards immediately which makes everything at least a turn quicker as well as giving you much better information at all times so as to allow optimal decisions about what to draw. It is pretty hard to lose a game when you have a Bargain in play and are not under imminent threat of death. Getting to 6 mana while remaining far from death is very tough in the cube and so Bargain has fallen a little out of favour, especially as you could make Sorin or Grave Titan for that 6 mana, regain some immediate tempo and stand a good chance of winning that way instead. If you can cheat it into play with an Academy Rector it looks a lot more appealing otherwise you want a robust control deck or lots of ramp to be able to get away with it. Mono black agro could run it as redundancy for Necro with the help of Lake of the Dead and Dark Ritual however it might as well play a tutor for redundancy. Despite its slightly prohibitive costs Bargain remains the best card draw in magic being able to quickly draw more cards for less mana than any other (you have to draw a lot of cards to out do the efficiency of Ancestral Recall but it is still possible!) and should not be overlooked even in these periods of decline.

Mind Twist
Mind Twist 3.0
Power 3.6
Support 2.5

Powerful, but not as much as many seem to think. For mana efficiency I generally prefer to run Hymn to Tourach as discard, especially when random, is best early. Mind Twist can be devastating if you can wipe out their entire hand (say 3 or 4 cards) in the early mid game where the tempo difference is not too extreme. When this happens you have to be very unlucky to then lose. As with any discard spells they become utterly useless most of the time a game goes late, which for an X spell is a little counter synergic. They are also like card draw spells in that they don't advance your board position at all which means you only want to cast them when things are stable or easily recoverable. To get the best use out of Twist you often have to make some other sacrifices which means the card is quite interesting to play despite being very dull to play against. A clunky card that is narrow and offers no tempo but makes up for this with potential game winning power. The slower the format gets or the more burst mana you are playing the more brutal this card becomes. In a standard control deck you will find you are more often than not too far behind to make best use of the Twist. In the more aggressive decks you rarely want to main deck cards that lose you tempo both of which limit its play time.

Death CloudDeath Cloud 4.5
Power 4.6
Support 4.4

In terms of the power of the effect Death Cloud is up there with some really big names such as Upheaval and Balance. It is one of my favourite spells and one of the most underrated cards in the cube. In many ways it is the black Command and not that lame Profane nonsense. This is because Death Cloud because it does so many things so well. The majority of games I win with black decks are the direct result of casting a Cloud which I play in basically every heavy black deck I build from agro through to control (although sadly not in the few combo decks that float about). Considering the power and versatility of the card it does not cost all that much and is as effective when cast with X being one or two as it is when X is 4 or more (obviously depending on the game state). It gives black decks so much reach like Overrun for green but more so. Imagine an elf deck without an Overrun effect, that is like every like deck without a Death Cloud! It is an interesting card as you sometimes have to engineer the game state so that you can make most use of the Cloud, you also have difficult choices about what sacrifices to make yourself in order to do more damage to your opponent. You frequently take the rough end of the stick on one of the effects so as to give a really rough end on the other portions to your opponent. Death Cloud can basically mimic the effects of all of the following cards: Innocent Blood, Damnation, Armageddon, Strip Mine, Mind Twist, Balance and Fireball. Frequently I end up using it as a bad burn spell to end a game my opponent fell to too low a life total in. It is just so easy to pay the appropriate amount for X and end up ahead or at least back to even footing in a game you were very behind in. You can exploit any aspect of the game in which you have an advantage be that in creature count, lands in play, life totals or cards in hand. Mono black agro is probably the second best agro deck in my cube at present after red deck wins which is further biased due the favourable matchup burny decks have against self inflicting pain style black decks. Many people say black is the weakest cube colour and I suspect much of this is due to people not auto including the Cloud in their decks. Black is a narrow colour but it is far far from weak and Cloud is one of those top power spells that also works very well in most black strategies. It is fairly heavy black but I have still found myself playing it in both two and the occasional three colour deck. Filter lands and Urborg help with playing it outside of mono however it isn't anything like trying to play a Necropotence or something as it is more of a late game play and feels much more like playing a Cryptic Command or a Sorin Markov. 

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