Too-Specific Top 10 - Mana Martyrs
(Illuminor Szeras | Art by Darren Tan)
I'm Looking for a Way to Say "Ritual Sacrifice" That Doesn't Sound Bad, But...
Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Su-Chi is the only card with a mana ability death trigger on the Reserved List?)
One of my favorite old cards has always been Soldevi Adnate. There's an even older version of it from Antiquities, Priest of Yawgmoth, that only cares about artifacts, but there's never been a reprint of the effect on a creature.
The Warhammer 40,000 Necron Precon is a mono-black artifacts build, and there are a lot of fun things hidden inside of it, but none are as awesome to me as the fact that now, one of my favorite effects is available in the command zone. Being able to go standard aristocrats fare and to have a higher top-end because you can consistently get six to eight mana on turn four is simply amazing.
Now what if I told you that you might be able to double that?
Top 10 Mono-Black Mana Martyrs
Sacrificing a creature to make your own Dark Rituals is great value, there's no disputing that. If, however, you could double the mana you're making, then you could put down an eight-mana creature with an enter-the-battlefield ability. At that point, you're drowning in mana the turn afterward as you sacrifice your eight-mana creature (after you swing for a ton of damage, mind you), and your top-end is sky-high!
How would that be possible?
Criteria: Creatures within the black color identity that have a death trigger that either adds mana or creates a token that can add mana immediately. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.
(396 Inclusions, 0% of 1,642,451 Decks)
With all of the creatures made in the image of Su-Chi, that's how! Only ever printed in Antiquities, this oddly named Construct has been best friends with Priest of Yawgmoth since the beginning, taking the four mana you would normally get from sacrificing it to an effect like Illuminor Szeras and adding another four on top of it. With the likes of Soldevi Adnate or Priest of Yawgmoth, that always felt like a bit of Magical Christmasland, but with the same effect in the command zone, having access to 12 mana on turn five can now pretty much be your norm!
9. Dire Fleet Hoarder
(2,780 Inclusions, 0% of 846,477 Decks)
Slightly less flashy, but slightly more popular, is Dire Fleet Hoarder. Given that an Illuminor Szeras deck will by definition be mono-black, there's less reason to be excited about Treasure, but at the end of the day, it is mana. Combine that with Dire Fleet Hoarder curving out nicely with our commander to create seven mana on turn four with no other aid, and there's more than enough reason to be including this Aristocrats staple.
8. Gleaming Barrier
(3,738 Inclusions, 0% of 1,642,451 Decks)
The math works out the exact same for Gleaming Barrier, only it's a much more formidable blocker on the table while you get set up for mana nonsense. That does come with the tradeoff of not being able to swing in, but staying alive is priority number one!
7. Myr Moonvessel
(3,746 Inclusions, 0% of 1,642,451 Decks)
Given that Treasure's 'any color' effect isn't that relevant in a mono-black deck, Myr Moonvessel looks even better for turbo-charging the Illuminor Szeras machine. At a single mana that you can even play and immediately ritual with, there's nothing not to like about this little Myr.
6. Carrier Thrall
(3,947 Inclusions, 0% of 846,477 Decks)
What's better than a Treasure? A Treasure that can attack and block! Carrier Thrall has been a staple of Aristocrats decks for ages, providing a great death trigger that can ramp you a turn while simultaneously providing yet another death trigger. Combine that with the 2/1 body and this thing was always going to be a slam-dunk in our Illuminor Szeras build.
(4,340 Inclusions, 0% of 1,642,451 Decks)
Not quite as bite-sized as Myr Moonvessel, nor as expensive as Su-Chi, Cathodion's middling size has made it easily the most popular of the Su-Chi effects, at least until we see the two-mana version. Strangely, that's sort of not true in the Illuminor Szeras build, what with Cathodion sharing a mana cost with our commander. We'd much rather see either of the other versions in our opening hand, although that doesn't mean that this isn't still a welcome sight.
4. Shambling Ghast
(8,937 Inclusions, 1% of 721,766 Decks)
For our mono-black purposes, Shambling Ghast is Myr Moonvessel with more flexibility, which suits us just fine! I've been harping a lot on Treasure not being that relevant with only one color out there, but the ability to hold it for another turn is pretty great, as is the flexibility of being able to get rid of someone's mana dork.
3. Sifter of Skulls
(14,390 Inclusions, 2% of 846,477 Decks)
If it's a ton of mana you want, alongside some flexibility about when you can spend said mana, then why not throw in some extra death triggers as well with Sifter of Skulls? Four mana is a bit pricey, but it's likely that you'll get an almost immediate return on your investment as the Eldrazi Scions start meandering in with every creature you toss to the graveyard.
2. Pawn of Ulamog
(30,389 Inclusions, 4% of 846,477 Decks)
Why not do the same thing, only cheaper? Yeah, you'll miss your free 1/1s being able to trade, but that's more than worth it to save a turn on getting this hugely relevant effect on the board.
1. Pitiless Plunderer
(65,511 Inclusions, 8% of 846,477 Decks)
Which is why, if we're looking at this from an Illuminor Szeras-only point of view, I'd actually put Pawn of Ulamog in our #1 slot, and I might push Pitiless Plunderer all the way down to #4. Don't get me wrong, Treasures are great, and we're absolutely playing this guy, but he's way less of a slam dunk here than he is in your average Aristocrats brew.
I don't think I've ever made a Top Ten before where all ten cards were windmill-slammed into the build, but as you can tell from the rounding praise, that's exactly what we've got here!
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There aren't any more black cards that give us some mana as they shuffle off this mortal coil, but there are a couple that give us some mana when they enter that I'd be remiss not to go over:
Top 10 Mono-Black Mana ETB Creatures
Oh! There are only four! Huh. Not the deepest Top Ten I've ever created, but given that I'm always touting just how great Priest of Gix can be, I'm still happy with the results!
Nuts and Bolts
There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Scryfall search.
What Do You Think?
Finally, what's your favorite creature that adds mana upon shuffling off this mortal coil? Are you planning on building Illuminor Szeras? What's the next effect you can already play in the 99 that you'd like to see in the command zone?
Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the table we refurbished and sold to build a newer, nicer table!