Streets of New Capenna Set Review - Maestros and Black

(Evelyn, the Covetous | Art by Marta Nael)

The (Grixis) World is a Vampire

And voilà, we are ready to go into town and party, "Vampire Style"!

Apparently, Vampires are very cool, because we're getting them again, so close after our latest Innistrad venture. I certainly don't mind! And they are looking more fabulous than ever this time: nice suits, fabulous dresses, hats and boas all around!

Today we're reviewing Grixis and black, and I can't wait to sink my teeth into it.

Before we begin in earnest, let's talk about the main mechanic of our family, Casualty. We can sacrifice creatures to copy some spells, but Casualty cares about the power of the sacrificed creature. This implies the merging of two archetypes, Aristocrats and Spellslinger. That sounds absolutely awesome!

Casualty 1 or 2 seems easy to achieve, since a lot of the tokens or sacrifice fodder will be of lower power. Cards like Sedgemoor Witch and Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia seem right at home here. Three-and-greater power is starting to get a bit rough for sacrifice fodder. All I'm saying is that we'll evaluate cards with Casualty 3 and higher with a little more scrutiny because it takes a bit more work. Copying spells is always dope, though, so we're willing to jump through a lot of hoops to achieve that!

Now let's get into the review proper!

Grixis - Mythics

Lord Xander, the Collector

While being one of the coolest characters in the New Capenna story, the godfather of the Maestro family does not impress. At first glance, Xander seems to have powerful effects, until you realize that he's seven mana. The fact that he has to target a single opponent for each of his abilities is really not that great.

As a commander, Xander feels unfocused. He wants to take you in three different directions: discard, mill, and forced sacrifice. A 6/6 on turn seven with no evasion doesn't attack that well, so I think the easiest way to break the card might be by sacrificing him and bringing him back repeatedly. For example, Ashnod's Altar and Nim Deathmantle can do this for only two mana. Cloning him and sacrificing the copies to the legend rule might also be a way to multiply his triggers (Rite of Replication, Mirrorhall Mimic, etc.).

When our opponents discard to Xander's triggers, Waste Not can get us value, while Liliana's Caress can slowly kill them. Mayhem Devil, It That Betrays, and everyone's favorite, Tergrid, God of Fright, can make us benefit from our opponents sacrificing creatures.

If mill is what we want to do, we can pair Xander with Bruvac the Grandiloquent and, provided our opponent's deck size is even, we can mill them out. So... we don't just kill them, we also make them count the remaining cards in their deck as an additional punishment for playing with us! Yay...?

In the 99, Lord Xander can be an okay Sneak Attack target. In Marchesa, the Black Rose, we can send the Maestros' Master to his doom and bring him back several times. He could also be seen in some Reanimator decks, like Obeka, Brute Chronologist or Sedris, the Traitor King.

All in all, I don't expect to see Lord Xander, the Collector that much in Commander.

Ob Nixilis, the Adversary

Oh my Ob, what dashing good looks you have in this set!

Okay, doubling a planeswalker, we saw that with Jace, Mirror Mage, but the fact that you can sacrifice a 7-power creature and use Ob's ultimate right off the bat can be quite strong - if the ultimate is any good. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here; let's check his abilities in order.

His +1 seems to suggest Demon or Devil tribal, but barely. On its own, this ability is pretty weak, but we have to keep in mind that this might be "doubled" if we have a another copy of Ob in play. His -2 is not so exciting by itself, but it answers the age-old question: "Can the planewalker defend itself?" Also, that ability turns on the first one, so we see a play pattern here.

Now for the ultimate: Griselbrand myself? Uh, yes please, but we're not going to get there fast... unless we sacrifice a 7-power creature. Do I want to pay three mana and sacrifice a big creature to draw seven cards? Yeah, I'll sac my Dread Cacodemon who already did his job and is now being chumped into eternity for a fresh new seven!

I can see Ob going in decks that care about Demon or Devils, like Rakdos, the Showstopper, Rakdos the Defiler, or even Kaalia of the Vast. He can also find a home in Sacrifice decks, like Judith, the Scourge Diva, where you'll have a random Mayhem Devil lying around, or perhaps Hidetsugu, Devouring Chaos, who is a Demon himself. I think Ob Nixilis, the Adversary is an interesting card and a solid one.

Grixis - Rares

Aven Heartstabber

Good flying blocker when it comes online. I don't actually know how hard it is to get five different mana values in the graveyard. Meh. I would just play Baleful Strix, which already has deathtouch and draws me a card immediately when it enters the battlefield.

Corpse Explosion

I am sensing Draconic Intervention vibes here, and that's not particularly good. In the right deck, sure, you'll probably have a creature in the graveyard a lot of the time, but its power might not be as high as you want. This spell won't be reliable, and you just can't cast it if you get Bojuka Bogged. I want my board wipes to be reliable, and I want to be able to cast them when I need them. I'm not fond of Corpse Explosion. It is nice that it hurts planeswalkers, though I'm unsure if it's enough for me to play it.

Evelyn, the Covetous

Sign me up, bite me now! I'm all for Grixis Vampires. (Technically, Garza Zol, Plague Queen has been around since Coldsnap, but having a dedicated tribal commander in these colors is sweet!) Mono-black and Rakdos Vampires are already well-supported, even more so with the recent Innistrad sets and the Strefan, Maurer Progenitor Commander deck. So what does blue add to our arsenal?

We can find some good tribal-specific cards in blue. Reflections of Littjara is somewhat slow, but making a copy of every Vampire you cast is nice. You can profit from Kindred Discovery the turn it enters the battlefield, since it triggers on your Vampires attacking. Having access to counter magic is nice as well.

Are there any standouts among the blue Vampires? Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge seems like a kindred spirit, even if you can't play all the cards exiled with Jeleva since they don't have a collection counter on it. From this set, Corpse Appraiser is at least decent, Cormela, Glamour Thief has definite combo potential and yes, you could run Lord Xander, the Collector! Why not?

Effects that manipulate the top of other players' libraries, like Memory Lapse or Portent, are going to be interesting as well. You can also have a nice little "exile matters" package with Prosper, Tome-Bound, Kami of Celebration, and Wild-Magic Sorcerer. They're not Vampires, but they can give us tons of value.

What about win conditions? Evelyn does trigger on tokens entering the battlefield, so technically we can exile all our opponents' libraries with Bloodline Keeper and Intruder Alarm. Also, we can flicker her infinitely with Dualcaster Mage and Ghostly Flicker for the same result.

I love what Evelyn, the Covetous brings to Vampire tribal, and I can't wait to see her in action!

Hostile Takeover

Another Wrath that I don't think makes the cut against Blasphemous Act, Cyclonic Rift, Curse of the Swine, Damnation, or Toxic Deluge. You can only run so many Wrath effects, and this one is not that good. The fact that Hostile Takeover takes down a specific creature from your opponent and saves one of yours is nice, I suppose, but three damage to every creature isn't much. I can see myself having this in hand and wishing it was a Chain Reaction instead.

Maestros Ascendancy

Aristocrats Spellslinger? Heck yes! Anhelo, the Painter, the face of the Maestros Commander deck, seems to suggest this as well. Spellslinger decks already make tokens with the likes of Talrand, Sky Summoner, Young Pyromancer, and Murmuring Mystic, so we possibly have a lot of fodder. Maybe Inalla, Archmage Ritualist decks can use this to rebuy some spells. Tormod, the Desecrator looks like he goes really well with that kind of strategy.

This archetype looks awesome, and I can't wait to try it!

Maestros Diabolist

We want tokens to sacrifice in the Aristocrats Spellslinger Grixis deck, but the Casualty 1 cards are not that great (except maybe Rob the Archives), and we have to attack to get the Devil token, which is not ideal. For reliable token generation, I've got my buddy Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia. Diabolist being a Vampire makes it a maybe for Evelyn, the Covetous, but then again, there are so many good Vampires in black and red that I don't think this guy and his little friend cuts it.

Black - Mythics

Angel of Suffering

"Damage" is the important word here. I was trying to break this with Vilis, Broker of Blood, but sadly, it doesn't work that way. Paying life isn't damage. Sad face.

So what deals damage to us? Well, negating the damage from Ancient Tomb and Mana Crypt feels nice. Midnight Reaper effects become "Draw one, mill one". Pretty decent if you're running a graveyard deck. You have to do the math right to not mill yourself to death, but Command the Dreadhorde without losing life seems pretty cool! That synergy looks potent in Syr Konrad, the Grim.

I think Angel of Suffering will fit in a deck that already takes damage and wants to be milling cards. Some kind of Chainer, Nightmare Adept Reanimator Group Slug, maybe? I don't even know that this deck exists. Or maybe a Firja, Judge of Valor Angel Tribal with Reanimator leanings? To me, you have to be able to trigger this card on your own, not just with the damage coming in from your opponents, for it to be good. Otherwise it's just a five-mana 5/3 flyer.

Body Launderer

This fancy Ogre embalmer is a nice little engine. His Connive ability will help us get things in the graveyard. When he dies, we can bring a non-Rogue back, which is kind of way to say that you can't copy this dude and bring him back to himself. With Karmic Guide, Body Launderer, and a free sacrifice outlet, like Phyrexian Altar, on the battlefield, we can get infinite death triggers, infinite colored mana, infinite enters-the-battlefield triggers, and infinite looting. If Blood Artist is out as well, that means death for our opponents. Deathtouch makes this a nice blocker, too.

Body Launderer is mainly an Aristocrats card. In Teysa Karlov, you can bring back two creatures to the battlefield when it dies. With our little combo, Elenda, the Dusk Rose grows infinitely large. Marchesa, the Black Rose might be interested in this card because of the +1/+1 counters.

Black - Rares

Cemetery Tampering

I'm guessing the Hideaway threshold is going to be easy to reach if you're a dedicated graveyard deck. In my Sefris of the Hidden Ways, for example, it would feel pretty nice to play Pathrazer of Ulamog or Vilis, Broker of Blood without paying their mana costs, but that's best-case scenario, and you have to wait until your next turn for it to pop.

Now, the real question for me is whether or not milling three cards on upkeep is good enough. Take Syr Konrad, the Grim, a tried and true mill deck, and compare Cemetery Tampering with turbo-milling cards like Mesmeric Orb, Doom Whisperer, or Altar of Dementia. Not really up to snuff here. It might be closer to a Perpetual Timepiece, but Timepiece is there for the mill and the "save-all-your-hard-work" against Tormod's Crypt. Going back to Sefris of the Hidden Ways, I don't even know if I'd want to run an enchantment; I'd rather have this effect on a creature, like Stitcher's Supplier, to trigger my commander. Maybe I'll find a home for it in my Pharika, God of Affliction Golgari Enchantress deck?

My feeling is that this card is just okay. The mill is going to add up, sure, but it'll do so slowly. A possible consideration for Reanimator decks who already want to run big scary threats and mill themselves.

Cut of the Profits

Damnable Pact sees play in 9,280 decks, mostly in Willowdusk, Essence Seer and Belbe, Corrupted Observer. Sadly, you can't kill someone with infinite mana like you can with Damnable Pact, since you have to draw the cards.

The sorcery speed hurts Cut of the Profits a lot, as for me the best part of that effect is to recoup the cost of a creature that was going to die anyway. For this usage, I prefer Village Rites, Deadly Dispute, and Plumb the Forbidden.

Without the sacrifice cost, it becomes a draw spell that scales with how far you are in the game. I don't think the rate is that good, compared to Sign in Blood, Painful Truths (if you're in multi-colored), and Ambition's Cost. If your commander is mana value four or higher, you might as well play Stinging Study instead.

Sanguine Spy

This is the definition of a fair Magic card. I prefer free sacrifice outlets, but that would be too good for Surveil 1. At least she doesn't tap as part of the cost. Her second ability has a lot of conditions. It makes me think of Shessra, Death's Whisper, who sees very little play. I don't know. Maybe there's a place for it in Vampire Tribal decks with lifelink synergies (Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, Elenda, the Dusk Rose).

Sanguine Spy does things, but is so very fair. We don't like fair cards in Commander, do we?

Shadow of Mortality

Some people play Blinkmoth Infusion in Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow without ever planning to cast it. Shadow seems a straight upgrade since, at some point in the game, you can play it for two mana and still get a 7/7 on the board. Vial Smasher the Fierce and Hidetsugu, Devouring Chaos decks might be interested in this card as well.

Thanks to Jake FitzSimons, our Yuriko connoisseur, for his opinion on this card! Check out his articles on Commander's Herald!

Shakedown Heavy

A three-mana 6/4 with menace is somewhat scary, so you'll at least get a card or two before this dies or gets blocked? Not great. Letting your opponents choose the best outcome for themselves is never good. The fact that it untaps is good for blocking, I guess. Maybe sees play in Ogre tribal decks (helmed by... Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder)? I'm not so high on Shakedown Heavy.

Tenacious Underdog

Speaking of three-power creatures that you can sacrifice to Casualty 3, is Tenacious Underdog efficient enough? Master of Death can be recurred for three mana, but only on upkeep. Silversmote Ghoul has a lifegain requirement, and comes back at the end step. Narfi, Betrayer King needs three snow mana. All things considered, Underdog is just okay, even if he draws us a card when he dies. I'd say he's not great and we can do better as far as recurring creatures.

Uncommons and Commons

  • A hasty mana dork with infinite mana potential? Oh, and when she dies she Archaeomancers an instant or sorcery card to your hand? Cormela, Glamour Thief feels like a rare. Also, she's right at home in those Casualty decks. (Check out our very own DougY's latest article featuring Cormela!)
  • A decent body, some graveyard hate and card selection on one card? Not really hard to sell Corpse Appraiser. Seems like decent value in the aforementioned Grixis Vampires deck, and it's a good blink target. It's not crazy or anything, but a neat little creature.
  • You don't really want to cast Dusk Mangler, you want to cheat it out of your graveyard, and then blink it or recur it. The effect is strong. I still don't know if it beats the likes of Archon of Cruelty, who has a better body, an attack trigger, and evasion. It's a decent consideration for Reanimator decks, and kind of brutal in Araumi of the Dead Tide.
  • Maestros Charm offers some nice card selection with some graveyard dumping. I don't see the drain ability being that useful in Grixis colors, but being able to deal with a creature or planeswalker is nice. I don't think it's as good as Crosis's Charm, but why not run both? Modal instant-speed spells are quite useful and rarely dead in your hand.
  • Rogues’ Gallery: Three mana, draw five? Not often. This could fit in a Niv-Mizzet Reborn deck, maybe? Also I haven't seen The Usual Suspects in ages, so I can't make any witty reference at the moment.
  • Illicit Shipment costs one more mana than Diabolic Tutor (played in 55,921 decks), but lets you search for two cards, if you're willing to let go of a three-power creature. Worth it? Maybe. Final Parting is similarly costed (without the sacrifice), and is played in 16,807 decks. For me, five mana is a lot for tutoring. Sacrifice or Aristocrats decks might want to run this to fetch for a combo piece or finisher.

Go Out With A Fang

Oh, what a set we have here, and what a time to be a Grixis player! I'm especially excited to see a take on Vampires in these colors with Evelyn, the Covetous. The other Grixis archetype, Aristocrats Spellslinger, seems very promising as well (Maestros Ascendancy)! I also believe that we will see Body Launderer a lot, given the popularity of Aristocrats strategies.

That's all we have for Grixis and black, folks! What are your favorite black cards from this set? Do you think I am sleeping on Cut of the Profits? Let me know in the comments! I am Philomène, and I wish you a bloody good fun with Streets of New Capenna!

Philomène is a film composer from Montréal, Canada. Her love of card games started in the late 90's with Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Dragon Ball Z and of course, Magic: The Gathering. Preferring a more casual kind of game in commander (art and lore being very high on her list of reasons to play cards), she satiates her competitive urges through Limited formats.