Murders at Karlov Manor Set Review - Black

Massacre Girl, Known Killer | Art by Billy Christian

White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Artifacts & Lands | Allied Colors & Shards | Enemy Colors & Wedges | cEDH | Reprints | Budget/Pauper

A Black Card for Dying

Hello, fellow sleuths and spies, I'm Brian, your usual host of Brew For Your Buck, and welcome to another set review! Murders at Karlov Manor is upon us, and frankly, this set looks awesome. I'm a sucker for mystery stories, I love characters like Sherlock Holmes and Poirot, and MKM seems like it absolutely nails the flavor. However, we're here to look at Commander gameplay, and with Teysa Karlov headlining the set, what better to look at than one of the two pillars of Orzhov: black! Without further ado, let's solve the mystery of the best black cards in the set by looking at every mythic and rare across the main set, Commander precons, and special Clue product, with some noteworthy commons and uncommons at the end.


Massacre Girl, Known Killer

We start off with an extremely exciting commander option. I love wither and -1/-1 counters, and I've flirted with making a Scorpion God deck many times. Our girl here is a perfect inclusion in the 99 of decks like the big Rakdos bug or Hapatra, being a great way to draw extra cards in both. Putting her in the command zone is far more exciting to me, though, since card advantage on your commander tends to be really strong. You can start by stocking the deck with all of the -1/-1 counter staples, like Blowfly Infestation, Nest of Scarabs, and Necroskitter. Her card draw trigger will also proc off of stuff that gives -X/-X, like Defile and Toxic Deluge. Throw in some creatures or Equipment that grant first strike to really make combat impossible, and we've got a killer stew going. I love the "toughness less than 0" design space and I hope we get to see more of it. Nice job, Wizards.

Vein Ripper

Blood Artist's big cousin looks nuts, with a gigantic flying body and a really punishing ward. I'm here to tell you that, while it is good, it isn't great, and definitely not worth its $15 price tag at time of writing. First: mana cost. Six mana and triple black makes it pretty difficult to cast outside of mono- or two-color black decks. Yes, the ward makes it really difficult to target without an opponent paying a big price, but that won't stop a counterspell. It also won't stop a board wipe, which might just exile everything anyway, preventing the huge drain and gain that you'd hoped would happen. Furthermore, if you're planning on combo-ing off with an infinite sacrifice chain, you have multiple variants for this effect that are way cheaper and easier to cast. Once you're going infinite, the increments you split it into don't matter. If you're playing Vampires or Assassins, have ways to cheat it into play, or just love the big splashy mythic, go for it, but wait for the price to drop.


Barbed Servitor

Another Stuffy Doll is always a welcome addition to the club, though this one has some differences worth mentioning. One big downside is not being able to block, since it suspects itself on entering the battlefield. This means using it to keep giant beaters at bay isn't an option, so no punishing our opponents for attacking us. It also picks up menace from the suspect trigger, which in my opinion doesn't counteract the "can't block" downside. You opponents will probably just let you draw a card instead of double blocking and taking some damage themselves. All of that said, you can still use the same things that get abused with the other Stuffy Dolls, like Blasphemous Act and Star of Extinction. That does mean that you'll want to put this in a deck that's at least Rakdos colors, so something like Piru, the Volatile or Obosh, the Preypiercer seem like great fits.

Case of the Stashed Skeleton

Before we get into specifics, a quick rules clarification on Cases: they enter with the top ability, and the "to solve" goes on the stack in your end step to check if you've met the condition. If you haven't, nothing happens and you try again next turn. If you have, the case becomes solved and gains the bottom ability, but you don't have to use it immediately. In fact, this is clear on Case of the Stashed Skeleton: you can't sacrifice it in your end step since it specifies sorcery speed.

Moving on, our particular Case reads to me like a four-mana Diabolic Intent, but you need an additional way to sacrifice the Skeleton since your opponents will never be incentivized to block it. Maybe if you're in an enchantment deck or some wild Lurrus build that can abuse this through recursion, it might be worth a shot. Otherwise, I think it's too clunky to play over more traditional tutor effects.

Charnel Serenade

The first precon card on our list brings another musical riff on this cycle from Future Sight. This "re-suspend" card promises a tune that every necromancer would love. It's pretty cool that as long as no one counters this, it just keeps happening every three turns (assuming you remember to cast it: suspend rules have changed recently). If a typical game lasts around 10-12 turns, then you're looking at 3-4 reanimates with increased selection from surveil. This is obviously great in the surveil-themed precon, triggering any surveil-matters cards for free. Any deck looking to stock the graveyard, cast things from exile, or double-spell can make good use of it as a recursion option as well. Oh, and the art is pretty wicked, too.

Deadly Cover-Up

A five-mana sweeper in black is nice for Standard, but there are so many options for this type of effect in Commander that I don't think this one stands out against the others, with one exception. Normally, these extraction effects don't do anything in a Singleton format, but this card doesn't have a critical clause that similar cards possess. If you choose to collect evidence with this card and your target is a basic land, you can extract every one of those lands from your opponent's deck. What's truly hilarious is getting someone that plays a deck featuring Shadowborn Apostles or the new Slime Against Humanity, so if you've got one of those in your playgroup, this is probably worth the meme value.

Eye of Duskmantle

Look at this freakin' thing! Creepy with a capital C. It's also probably the best card in the surveil precon and why it deserves its seven mana value casting cost. It is quite literally a Yawgmoth's Will stapled to a Bolas's Citadel for cards that are surveilled into your 'yard. By the time this hits the battlefield, you've probably already got some sort of surveil engine going to fuel it and cast enough spells to vault way ahead of your opponents. If you combine it with something that gains you life for casting spells, like Aetherflux Reservoir, you're almost assuredly going to win the game. I am very interested to see how people break this card, and since I won't be able to sleep after looking at the art, I might as well be one of them.

Foreboding Steamboat

I have no idea what to make of this card. The flavor is really weird; perhaps a tribute to Death on the Nile? Everyone gets in the boat and slowly they start dying? It also doesn't really seem to fit into the surveil precon at all. Mechanically, I guess it's kind of like a weird spin on Hex, but your opponents get to choose which creatures they sacrifice, and don't forget you need to as well, so it's a bad board wipe, and a very slow Clue-generator. Maybe I'm missing something but for now, I'll take the next boat.

Homicide Investigator

Now this is a Blood Artist variant I can get behind. A simple design that turns creatures into Clues. I'm actually kind of surprised this hasn't been printed before. Of course, the best case scenario is to have something that you can sacrifice on each player's turn, but that can be a little tough with the nontoken clause. Maybe with a bunch of mana, Reassembling Skeleton can give you a hand (heh). In a generic deck, I think you'd rather have something like Grim Haruspex, but if you have any synergy at all with Clues, artifacts, or tokens in general, this is a great addition to your card advantage engines.

Hunted Bonebrute

A new addition to the "hunted" cycle! In my opinion, these cards are underrated in Commander, as you can play politics with the tokens that they create. This addition comes with disguise as a twist, letting you circumvent the ETB trigger altogether and just giving you the body if you want to pay the extra mana. Any power-matters decks, like Greven or Varolz, will like this. If you're playing Reggie, you probably want Hunted Bonebrute, too.

Illicit Masquerade

This seems like a missed opportunity for using the cloak mechanic, at least from a flavor perspective. Besides that, the first thing that came to my mind was Living Death. Just like Living Death, you probably want to use this when the number of creatures in your graveyard is greater than or equal to the number of creatures that will get counterfeit counters. But you don't have to. Sure, you could cast it in response to a board wipe, but this also has some applications for other types of Reanimator decks that can just sac a token to bring back a bomb. The one bummer is that whatever had the counter on it is exiled for good, so be sure you're okay with losing it. It certainly feels very Orzhov, and I'll want to see it in practice before I make any final decisions about the card.

Mastermind Plum

Our Universes Within version of Professor Plum! He's gives us some nice graveyard hate and maybe some ramp with the attack trigger, though without evasion I don't really see the 2/2 body cracking in all that often. However, his second ability seems bonkers. In a deck with a critical mass of Treasures, you can turn all your spells into cantrips so long as at least one Treasure was used to cast each of them. Keeping your hand full in a deck that has access to so much mana is extremely powerful, so I think any of you Treasure aficionados will want to get a lesson from the good Professor Mastermind here. Also, where can I get some threads like that? Yes, I've already got the monocle.

Outrageous Robbery

Hey, look! It's the "good in Prosper" card for the set. Just kidding, I actually don't think this card is very good at all*. It reminded be of Commune with Lava when I first saw it, but instead of getting your own cards for one turn, you get your opponents' cards in perpetuity. Being an instant means you can get some value right before you untap, but otherwise I'd rather just have my own cards since they're better for my gameplan anyway. If you've got infinite mana, I suppose this is a way to just blast someone's library out of the game, which is kind of neat but nothing we haven't seen before. Look for this in the aforementioned exile-matters decks and theft decks, but not much further.

*A big caveat is cEDH, where you can use this to mess with an opposing topdeck tutor and or steal a combo piece. Check out Commander's Herald or the link at the top of this article for the full cEDH review!

Unshakable Tail

Like Homicide Investigator, I really like this simple yet elegant design. The first ability fuels the second along with your other surveil and Clue synergies. I like that it can recur itself, since it's best at home in a self mill deck like the surveil precon. Eloise players seem like they'd make room for this (she is being errata'd to a Detective, right Wizards?), but don't sleep on it for a Zombie kindred deck, either. The art tells a funny story; it looks like the Zombie is trying to figure out who killed him? Cards like this one are a slam dunk to me, even if they aren't the splashiest thing on the table.

Uncommons & Commons

Long Goodbye

Don't let the "can't be countered" clause fool you. That is here for Limited so disguised creatures can be killed without paying the ward cost. Otherwise, this is Eliminate, and you probably weren't playing that over the millions of other black removal options. The best part about this card is the name, which reminds me of the first book in the Travis McGee mystery novels by John D. McDonald. If you think you'd like some easy reading about a guy that solves mysteries and lives on a houseboat that he won in a poker game, here's a link.

Persuasive Interrogators

I'm glad that just because the Phyrexians have phased out of existence we haven't seen the end of poison counters. There are a bunch of ways to make infinite Clues that include black in the color identity that turn this into an immediate win condition, and it's a fast clock even without the combo element. At uncommon, this smells like a future Brew For Your Buck article to me!

Snarling Gorehound

This cute, floofy good boy is worth mentioning as a potential combo piece if you're looking to deck yourself for some reason.

Well, we're at the end of our suspect list and I can't decide which is the best black card in the set. Massacre Girl is the obvious choice (just like the MTG story), but maybe you have a different thought, my dear reader? Let me know in the comments where my analysis was right or wrong, or maybe I missed the culprit entirely? You can check out my usual series, Brew For Your Buck here, or follow me on Twitter. Happy spoiler season, and see you next time!

Read more:

Murders at Karlov Manor Set Review - Blue

Brian played Magic intermittently between 2003 and 2017 when he fully embraced his love for Commander. Finding ways to maximize the value of each piece of cardboard in the deck is one of his favorite things to explore, especially if it involves putting lands in the graveyard! Outside of Magic, Brian works as a consultant in the marine industry, turning his passion for boats and ships into a career.

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