Superior Numbers - Cards Caring about Colors: Black

I see a red door and I want it painted black

Welcome to Superior Numbers, where I try to do numerical analysis on cards and deckbuilding trends using slightly more math and slightly less snark than in my usual column.


Let's take a look back at Magic's earliest days, a distant time when it seemed like a good idea to design cards that functioned based on the colors your opponent chose to play. Hey, it was a long time ago. We were young in those simpler times, lining up at the theater to watch Keanu Reeves blast random dudes with hand cannons. Times have changed, and we've grown beyond that. Now when we line up at the theater to watch Keanu Reeves blast random dudes with hand cannons he does so with a beard. Clearly we've learned from those past mistakes.

Still, those cards are Commander legal even if it's a design space the game no longer visits, and by virtue of EDH being a multiplayer format, it's way less likely you'll get burned by an opponent's color choice. You have three, four, or sometimes even five times more opponents, which means five times greater likelihood that one of your opponents will be playing a color that boosts the strength of your cards.

For the next few Superior Numbers articles, I'll be taking a look at some of these more popular cards that hate on or care about other colors. For this first installment, we'll be starting with the color black.

Note: All statistics presented are as of 03/17/2019.

No colors any more, I want them to turn black

Absolute Grace gives all creatures protection from black, and Elephant Grass and Light of Day alter combat for black creatures. If you're not playing black, that isn't much of a downside for you, but what's the upside?

  • Commanders
    • 7 of the top 10 and 13 of the top 20 commanders of all time are black
    • 4 of the top 5 and 15 of the top 20 commanders in the last month are black
    • 4 of the top 5 and 16 of the top 20 commanders in the last week are black
  • Creatures
    • 2 of the top 20 are black
    • 27 of the top 100 are black

One note that is relevant here is that the top 20 creatures list tends to be dominated by broadly useful utility creatures and mana dorks. In other words, creatures that don't really present combat threats. When we pull up a level and look at the top 100 creatures, the numbers are less dominated by those types of utility creatures. We also see that black, which represents 20% of the color pie (or less, if you count colorless) takes up 27% of the creature slots.

These stats are also useful for Cleanse and Reclamation.

The following numbers are also important for Absolute Grace:

  • Instants
    • 3 of the top 5 targeted instant removal spells are black
    • 7 of the top 15 targeted instant removal spells are black
  • Sorceries
    • 2 of the top 5 targeted sorcery removal spells are black

I should also note these things are somewhat meta-dependent as well. If you're playing in a small, tight group with predictable color matches, the value of these cards is fairly easy to gauge. If, however, you are playing in a much more volatile environment, hopefully these stats will help you better judge just how game viable these cards may be. In general, I'm not sure these particular cards warrant the cut for their specific color-hosing potential. Let's look at a few more, though.

I see a line of cars and they're all painted black

Compost cares out cards being put into graveyards. Unlike Absolute Grace, where we only counted targeted spells, here we primarily want to look at the flat amount of instant and sorcery spells that are black, as they're the type of spells mostly likely to wind up in a graveyard without any added interaction.

  • Instants
  • Sorceries
    • 3 of the top 10 sorceries are black
    • 36 of the top 100 sorceries are black

Lifeforce just cares about black spells, period, regardless of type, and Reap cares about black permanents in play:

These cards look much better than the ones above; they count for any spell, and a whole lot of the categories here are dominated by an over-representation of black cards (black is just one-fifth of the color pie, for example, but takes up one-third of the most popular sorceries). We have a well-above-average chance to encounter one if not two opponents playing black in their decks, and for a large number of their spells in those decks to be black, too, which makes the cards here definitely worth consideration.

I look inside myself and see my heart is black

Greater Realm of Preservation basically mashes together Circle of Protection: Black and Circle of Protection: Red into one enchantment that very few people run. Should more people run it? Well, let's look at how effective it might be:

Righteous War is a pet card of mine. Almost any deck that can run it (save a few exceptions like Alesha, Who Smiles at Death and General Tazri) feature commanders that are both black and white. This means Righteous War also gives that commander protection from both those colors, rendering it unblockable by black or white creatures, turn it into an indestructible blocker when blocking a black or white creature, and making it impervious to any black or white spell or ability. So how frequently is that important?

Snake Pit makes a token every time one of your opponents casts a blue or black spell. It requires no input from you to do so, either.

More than half of the most commonly cast spells create a Snake. Even if your opponents in a four player game each only cast one spell per turn, you will on average create 1.5 snakes per trip around the board, at least in looking at the most popular spells in each category.

It's not easy facing up when your whole world is black

Thanks for reading! I’d like to leave off with a tentative decklist of mine actually running Compost. This is an evolution of the Kess, Dissident Mage Petitioners deck put together on the EDHRECast episode #46. Eventually I'll hit most of the color-hosing cards that see some EDH play, and perhaps take a look at the land hosers, too, but in the interim, if you have any suggestions for other topics to cover in a future Superior Numbers, leave a note in the comments below!

Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcast. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son. He has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.

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