The Brothers' War Set Review - Black

(Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor | Art by Anna Podedworna)

White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Gold I | Gold II | Artifacts | LandscEDH

The Shadows of War

"In the grim darkness of the [past], there is only war."

Don't click away! You are in the correct timeline. While the setting may be different, The Brothers' War and Warhammer 40,000 aren't as different as you'd think. Both have an undeniable undercurrent of how war ravages those who are swept up in conflict, how power drives one towards destructive choices, and how a conflict of ideals yields no true victor. Not to mention titanic machines ravaging the landscape. The Brothers' War is a conflict that scars the plane of Dominaria, and with this set, we're able to bring the war machines of the past to bear.

What kind of destruction will reaching into the past bring us?


Mythics


Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor

Starting off this review is a character for whom players have yearned for decades. Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor has finally arrived, and veteran players will likely recognize that first line of text. Edric, Spymaster of Trest was at one point in time one of the most popular and powerful commanders, and his effect was well-known to be a tool for political manipulation. Gix brings this ability to mono-black nearly word-for-word. Causing strife among opponents by pointing them toward each other? It's a thematic win. Taking lessons from Edric, we can lean into small evasive creatures, like Changeling Outcast or Nether Traitor, to poke at our opponents for cards. While black may not have as many truly unblockable creatures as blue, there's plenty of evasion within the color (fear, swampwalk, flying, menace, and intimidate) to make due.

However, typical of modern Magic design, that's not where Gix's abilities end, and luckily for us, the payoff for orchestrating a war is a big one. Seven mana and discarding X cards from our hand lets us exile and cast the top X cards from an opponent's library. Black is one of the best mana-producing colors after green, and it's also rife with card draw. Both of these factors should allow this ability to be a powerful engine, tossing away whatever we don't need to turn our opponents' own cards against them.

Black also has ways to turn this cost to our advantage: Containment Construct lets us double-dip on the value; Shadow of the Grave lets us recoup our discarded cards as well; and Bone Miser gives us loads of value on top of the activation. Bone Miser is particularly powerful, since we can potentially discard and draw enough cards off of the effect to activate Gix a second time. Oh, and I really want to live the dream of being able to cast Peer into the Abyss and activate Gix in the same turn. I draw half my library and discard my hand to play half of your library. This is what dreams are made of!


Phyrexian Fleshgorger

While it's a mythic and an "Artifact Creature - Phyrexian Wurm", this is not the second coming of Wurmcoil Engine. Looking at their stats alone, Phyrexian Fleshgorger compares favorably to Wurmcoil: 7 mana vs. 6 mana, menace and lifelink vs. deathtouch and lifelink, and a 7/5 vs. a 6/6. Once we get past the surface-level comparison is where Wurmcoil really shows its worth. I'll admit this isn't the most fair comparison; comparing a new artifact creature against arguably one of the strongest ones in the format? If we're making that comparison at all, that should mean the card is good, right?

Well, it depends. While Fleshgorger is a threatening creature in its own right, I'm not including creatures in my decks for how threatening they are on stats alone (although it does help). There needs to be more utility, and the only additional effect this Wurm brings is a ward ability, which will only matter in a few niche situations.

With that said, EDH is a format where players will pick clean the bones of any card to find its best use, and Prototype has some interesting applications. Prototype modifies a creature's characteristics while it's on the stack and the battlefield, based on which cost was paid. Everywhere else, though, the creature retains its printed stats. This means Fleshgorger can be played and exist as a three-drop, but it will have a mana value of seven everywhere else, and commanders like Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow or Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign care about these factors. Any graveyard-based artifact deck can play this card for cheap, then reanimate it (or blink it) later as the seven-mana version. These interactions might be more fun than good, but they turn the gears in my head.


Rares


Ashnod, Flesh Mechanist

I admire low-cost commanders, as they represent a level of consistency and early deployment that only commanders with Eminence can match. Ashnod, Flesh Mechanist offers a fairly new playstyle I'm interested to explore. Attacking and sacrificing creatures are very familiar strategies to black, but what draws me to Ashnod and makes her unique is that she creates a Powerstone token during each attack. It's undeniably slow, but I'm not going to overlook a commander that can create ramp while also enabling sacrifice and artifact strategies. Memnite or Shield Sphere can be played on turn one alongside Ashnod and be a low-commitment sacrificial body.

The downside is that Ashnod is fragile on her own. Her deathtouch dissuades blocking, but Ashnod is small enough that any token can block and kill her. Adding in Equipment like Sharpened Pitchfork might be necessary to make blocking her much more difficult.

While I love the flavor of her second ability, it feels more like an emergency option than an effect to build around. Five mana for a 3/3 isn't the best rate, though I suppose it does give us an option to scrap our graveyard. The biggest boon these tokens offer is that they're artifact Zombies, so I suppose you could make a Zombie tribal deck with her, and I imagine some of the newer Necron commanders may take a look at her too, since they also like artifact tokens. Jan Jansen, Chaos Crafter might be another possible option, as she can convert any creatures into noncreature artifacts for Jan to sacrifice.


Fateful Handoff

Do you like politics? I'll admit that this card doesn't excite me. Disciple of Bolas and Morbid Curiosity, yes, but handing things off completely? Nah. I suppose Homeward Path can reclaim the permanent, but overall, this isn't a general EDH card. Instead, it already knows exactly where it wants to go: Jon Irenicus, Shattered One, The Beamtown Bullies, and Blim, Comedic Genius are well-known for giving harmful gifts away. Harmless Offering with built-in upside? Sign these commanders up!


Gixian Puppeteer

Before The Brothers' War released, black had not explored the growing "second card drawn matters" theme, but now we're seeing the debut with cards such as Gixian Puppeteer. Having access to some of the best draw in the game will making triggering this card very possible multiple times per round. Dealing two to four damage every round and gaining just as much life certainly makes this a threat all on its own. Lifegain decks, like Dina, Soul Steeper or Karlov of the Ghost Council, will gladly take a passive gain-and-drain effect.

As if that wasn't enough, the reanimation ability in the second half pushes the value of this card sky-high. I've played Cavalier of Night for years in Teysa Karlov and found the death trigger to be incredible. If that's the effect you're building around, you won't be disappointed in a cheaper body. Plus, impactful creatures that cost three mana or less always continue to be printed, so there's never a shortage of targets.


Gix's Command

Commands are interesting in Commander, as the nature of having multiple players typically allows their flexibility to shine. These spells need to be more than the sum of their parts, because five mana is a lot for a sorcery.

Unfortunately, the first mode is not entirely inspiring. Two +1/+1 counters is decent, and lifelink is useful to stack on top of it, but it's not exactly exciting. Destroying each creature with power 2 or less is a narrow Wrath, and I'll say that it'll sweep away more than you think, but you'll really feel it when it doesn't clear away a whole swath of important creatures out there. Returning two creatures from grave to hand is also not a jump-for-joy mode, and even with the fourth mode being able to clear each opponents' largest creature, it's not inspiring. I don't really value these effects in a vacuum, and the ones I play come with other upside, such as Szat's Will.

Gix's Command is sadly going to get a pass from me. All of the effects are situational or too narrow for my liking.


Hostile Negotiations

Black Fact or Fiction? Black Fact or Fiction!

While there are measurable differences between the two from a game theory perspective, I'm not going to bog myself (or you) down in those weeds. This card compares favorably to Fact or Fiction, which has long been one of my favorite draw spells, and that's what matters. Drawing cards? Filling the graveyard? Four-mana instant? A single colored pip? Sign me up! We've seen a few other cards deal in piles, but this is the first mono-black version. Can you bluff your way into showing a dangerous pile and keeping it? Can you make a deal with an opponent to give you the face-down pile to hide information from your other opponents? There are so many possibilities with hidden information.

Even ignoring that element, drawing three cards and putting three cards into your graveyard is good. I'm realistically going to play this in 99% of my black decks going forward, including Lord Windgrace, Kess, Dissident Mage, and Sefris of the Hidden Ways. If you want to remain on-theme, Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths is very excited.


Misery's Shadow

Grave hate will continue being printed until morale improves!

Misery's Shadow is yet another efficiently costed creature to help hate out sacrifice-oriented and graveyard-centric decks. Is your opponent running Teysa Karlov? Are they looping Gravecrawler? Are they Joey "As a Necromancer Myself" Schultz? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, this card will probably perform. The downside is that Misery's Shadow doesn't actively hate out the graveyard. It doesn't stop your opponents from milling or discarding cards in the graveyard. It doesn't prevent creatures from coming back either. Anything already there won't be affected by this new contender. It only stops death triggers (which is probably enough, given their potency).

Many of these effects have been printed lately, and too many in a deck will overlap and conflict. If you want this effect for little cost and no frills, give this a shot. Otherwise, you can find more impactful alternatives through its contemporaries: Dauthi Voidwalker, Gisa, Glorious Resurrector, Draugr Necromancer, Liesa, Forgotten Archangel, etc.


Razorlash Transmogrant

Seldom do we get a new variant that can keep up with Reassembling Skeleton. Will Razorlash Transmogrant make the grade? The biggest negative that will dissuade players is how late its cost reduction will be active. While it will certainly happen, the question is how quickly player will amass four nonbasics. Are you willing to wait until turn five or six?

Realistically, I like this card. Having an artifact variant of this popular effect is fun, and it's one of the more threatening of its family. Coming back into play with 4 power shouldn't be overlooked either. This is a repeatable four counters with Kresh the Bloodbraided or a repeatable 3-power creatures for decks running Elemental Mastery. While it loses out on raw efficiency, if you're looking to squeeze every last drop of value from a card, Transmogrant brings enough n0velty to be worth it.


Terror Ballista

I adore the effect on this card. An evasive attacker? Sacrificing creatures? Destroying creatures in an interesting way? This card checks a lot of boxes. The only thing holding this card back is its beefy mana cost. Without haste, this card is either too expensive for the effect or too slow for it. Unearthing this creature is more enticing, but that's still a single shot.

I want to like this card, but it falls a little short for me. There are more impactful and guaranteed effects in these colors if you want that, and it's not quite unique enough to overcome the alternatives. Ravenous Chupacabra destroys creatures easily enough, and there's also Noxious Gearhulk if you're looking to keep the artifact theme.

Despite this, I'm sure many of the Necron commanders would be happy to mill this away. Imotekh the Stormlord in particular can generate the fodder necessary to fire the Ballista.


Transmogrant's Crown

And here we have Wizards' newest attempt to fix Skullclamp. Nothing will ever compete with that card again, but I appreciate the attempt to iterate on it. The Crown is still inexpensive, and while it doesn't draw two cards, drawing one is still good when you can equip it for a single black mana. You'll still need a sacrifice outlet to have the draw on demand, but there're plenty of those in the format. If you're looking to de-fang your Teysa Karlov deck, this might get a look. Given their recency, I'll continue mentioning the Necron commanders, because Illuminor Szeras lets you buy back the cost to equip and even pay for the next Equipment. Maybe you're running Kels, Fight Fixer to double up on the effect. This card's going to be strong despite how much weaker it may read than format mainstays.


Uncommons & Commons


Disciples of Gix

While six mana is a hefty cost, attaching an artifact-centric Buried Alive to a creature is definitely noteworthy. Trazyn the Infinite likely lives up to his name very quickly if this hits the field. It's a bit obvious to say, but this card will need to be included in a deck that cares about artifacts to get the most use. Maybe a Muldrotha, the Gravetide will want this to tutor a Shardless Agent or any number of utility pieces. The same can be said for Karador, Ghost Chieftain with the new Haywire Mite, or maybe you pick and choose your best target for Anrakyr the Traveller. Is this worth the cost? In the right deck, absolutely.


Gurgling Anointer

I've already discussed my love for the "second draw matters" archetype, and we have another serviceable role-player! I love cards that enable their own abilities (within reason), and the Anointer provides. I'm also a fan of recurring small creatures with the support of cards like Lurrus of the Dream-Den, so that's the second box Gurgling Anointer checks off. While there's not much to say about drawing and reanimation that wasn't already covered under Gixian Puppeteer, even the slight wrinkle of counters open the door for commanders like Reyhan, Last of the Abzan or Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager as well as the Helmsman of Horror, Captain N'ghathrod.


Gnawing Vermin

While Stitcher's Supplier is unmatched for its milling potential, Gnawing Vermin at least stands as a side-grade. A -1/-1 effect might be too small to be impactful often, but sometimes it might be enough to snipe a support piece. While it'll likely only target yourself, it does have the option to mill an opponent if you need. Most importantly, this is only the second one-drop in black that self-mills, so decks that want that type of consistency just gained another piece. I know I'll be considering it for Kagha, Shadow Archdruid as a cheap way to generate card advantage.


Thran Vigil

Is this card is any good? Not really, but it's fun, and it's yet another effect that cares about cards leaving your graveyard. Tormod, the Desecrator and Imotekh the Stormlord will happily take a new piece. Notably, this card works with all the Unearth cards running around in The Brothers' War, because the creature leaves the graveyard and enters the battlefield in sequence before Thran Vigil triggers. This could help push a few extra points from a massive Ghost Ark turn. Other than all that, maybe there's an artifact creature variant of Sedris, the Traitor King who would want this.


Transmogrant Altar

While it's not Ashnod's Altar or Phyrexian Altar, I'm ecstatic to have a new mana Altar in the game. I've personally started to move away from those very powerful sac outlets, but one of the downsides is that it doesn't leave many options to generate mana. At least, not until recently. Transmogrant filters a single black into three colorless, and that's enough for me to take notice. Phyrexian Tower is another once-per-round sacrifice outlet that nets two mana, and I've never regretted having that in play. The option to replace the sacrificed creature with a 3/3 artifact Zombie is pure upside. Urza, Chief Artificer in particular may like this as a way to convert any nonartifact creatures into an artifact creature.


Overwhelming Remorse

This is arguably one of the best cards in the entire set, even at common. Murderous Cut might be easier to cast for a single mana, but more often than not, this card will be heavily discounted. Exiling a creature or planeswalker for one black? And the only condition to reduce the cost is having creature cards in the 'yard? This card is absurd. Expect to see it regularly.


And That's the Set!

Black is the color I've been most excited for from the The Brothers' War. Gixian Puppeteer, Hostile Negotiations, and Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor are standout cards for me, and I know I have decks planned for all of these cards.

While I haven't been shy about my lack of interest in the set before spoilers, The Brothers' War has won me over with its theming, mechanics, and showcase of the history of the war itself. There have been plenty of awesome Standard-legal sets this year, but this one comes out on top.

How do you feel about this set? What black cards are you most excited for? Are there cards that I'm under-valuing? Should I have mentioned a card I didn't? Let me know in the comments!

Mason is an EDH player from Georgia, who is a self-proclaimed Johnny and Vorthos. His MTG career started with a casual lifegain deck with only a single win-condition. When not consuming MTG, he spends his time being a full-time student, an avid sports fan, and a dabbling musician. Mason can be found on twitter @K_Mason64