Too-Specific Top 10 - Mono-Black Burn

(Sheoldred, the Apocalypse | Art by Joe Esposito)

Who Wouldn't Want to Draw Cards?

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 Atrocious Experiment is the only card that can have a target player draw cards, mill cards, and lose life?)

Burn has always been one of my favorite archetypes, and it's one that's hard to pull off in a multiplayer format like Commander. It's hard enough to point four Lightning Bolts at an opponent and then finish them off with a couple Chars in two-player, but when you'd need another 18 burn spells to do it even if there wasn't a pesky lifegain deck in the pod, it's a whole other story.

So why not be the pesky lifegain deck and the burn deck in the pod, all at once?

It didn't take long from the new Sheoldred's printing for her to get popular and then loathed. It actually felt like it happened in just a weekend, if I'm honest. So I figured, why not kick the hornet's nest a little bit and build a unique take on a commander people were tired of before they even saw it? What could go wrong?

Top 10 Mono-Black Draw Burn Spells

The first thing that leapt into most player's minds when they saw Sheoldred was Peer into the Abyss. Then, after that one player insta-kill, most folks stopped looking at the spell options in favor of your more usual wheel & Group Hug shenanigans.

All these passionate players out there so sure that they're on the right side of the Phyrexian Arena versus Sign in Blood conversation, and they're all just immediately jumping on the permanent-based draw solutions. Why not stick to your guns, and commit to all of the super-efficient spell options that can draw you or your opponents cards?

So let's have the Phyrexian Arena versus Sign in Blood conversation, only lets do it with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse in play. You play down a Phyrexian Arena, and pass turn. Your opponent draws their card for turn, losing two life, and then passes back to you. You draw two cards, lose one life, and then gain four off of Sheoldred's ability. The second card you drew was a Sign in Blood, and you smile for a moment as you do the math and realize that your opponent that is magically down to eight in this Christmas-land scenario is already dead, they just don't know it yet.

Am I skewing the scales? Absolutely. But that's kind of the whole idea of the Praetors, isn't it?

So, now that I've established beyond a reasonable doubt that spells are better than permanents when it comes to building Sheoldred Burn, let's find out the best arrows in our quiver!

Criteria: Instants or sorceries that can have target player, each player, each opponent, or each player draw cards and lose life. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.

10. Eldritch Pact

(1,841 Inclusions, 1% of 364,359 Decks)

I've been in on Eldritch Pact since it was first spoiled, even beyond Peer into the Abyss. Why? Because unlike Peer into the Abyss, the top end of Eldritch Pact isn't set in stone, meaning it's a lot more likely to be a finisher in the late game.

Of course, that argument kind of goes out the window when you're playing Sheoldred, as she just instantly kills with Peer into the Abyss, and might not with Eldritch Pact. Still, given that pretty much every big mana version of the deck is going to play both, I maintain that my argument is rock solid!

9. Caress of Phyrexia

(1,959 Inclusions, 0% of 884,961 Decks)

A card I'm less excited about through the lens of Sheoldred, however, is Caress of Phyrexia. Having an opponent lose nine life is an okay deal for five mana, but you don't really care about the Poison counters. Wouldn't it be just the way life goes for them to matter against a Proliferate or Poison deck when you used this on yourself, though?

8. Painful Lesson

(3,354 Inclusions, 0% of 884,961 Decks)

I have no such squabbles about Painful Lesson. It might be the worst of the "draw two cards, lose two life" cards, but given that it can still target another player and there aren't very many of these effects in Magic, you're happy to see it in your Sheoldred deck, as the worst case scenario is it drawing you into some of the better options that do the same thing.

7. Wretched Confluence

(4,412 Inclusions, 0% of 884,961 Decks)

If you are going to pay five mana to draw three cards, then you're probably better off doing it with Wretched Confluence than Caress of Phyrexia. Having options to do that to your opponent for the same nine mana without the Poison counters isn't bad either, but the main reason you love this is that that's not where the flexibility ends.

6. Foreboding Fruit

(5,269 Inclusions, 1% of 884,961 Decks)

Making a food token might seem like a small upside compared to the also-sorcery-speed Painful Truths, but it's enough that food decks are playing this card over it, and it's also more than enough to want to see this card more in Sheoldred. Combine the fact that it's just free value with the fact that if you're going to be burning people out with Sheoldred you're probably already playing some version of Sanguine Bond, and Foreboding Fruit actually starts to look like one of the best possible options for you in Sheoldred, whether you're trying to be a "Burn" deck or not.

5. Blood Pact

(8,538 Inclusions, 1% of 719,465 Decks)

Only, what's the last amazing burn spell you can name that you could only cast at sorcery speed? Mizzium Mortars? Crackle with Power? Banefire? We're really starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel with those options, and certainly none of them are what you'd describe as "efficient". At instant speed, though, you can probably name quite a few just off the top of your head: Lightning Bolt, Shock, Abrade, Volcanic Offering, Pyrokinesis, the list just goes on and on.

Black "burn" spells will never have the flexibility of being able to target anything that red burn spells do, but they can at least come with the instant speed option that all of the best burn spells do.

4. Damnable Pact

(16,997 Inclusions, 2% of 884,961 Decks)

With that said, if you're going to go the Fireball route, then Damnable Pact does a decent impression. Coming by huge amounts of mana in black isn't as easy as green, but it does have about as many rituals as red does, along with a ton of effects that double your swamp mana. In other words, if you draw this in the late game, it may just end the game for someone. In the midgame, however, it will still draw you five cards and gain you ten life, which is nothing to scoff at!

3. Pact of the Serpent

(19,269 Inclusions, 2% of 842,848 Decks)

Most non-tribal decks would scoff a bit at playing a tribal card like Pact of the Serpent, but there's a lot to be said about how much damage this can do to an Elf player across the table. In most Sheoldred decks, this will only be an offensive weapon, but even if it's worst mode is paying three mana to draw a single card and gain two life, you could do worse!

2. Peer into the Abyss

(33,396 Inclusions, 4% of 884,961 Decks)

Obviously, this is going in pretty much every Sheoldred deck out there, and for good reason. Whether it be pointed at you or your opponent, it's going to have a huge effect on any game that is more than worth the seven-mana investment.

1. Sign in Blood

(92,444 Inclusions, 10% of 884,961 Decks)

The Sign in Blood versus Phyrexian Arena conversation is becoming a close one in data as well as in theory as of late, with Sign in Blood creeping right up on Phyrexian Arena's 110,113 inclusions. I'll stand by my argument of both being fine additions, with Arena getting a slight edge in lower-powered metas where you're more likely to have it stick around for more value, and Sign in Blood being clearly superior in higher-powered metas where you can get immediate value for less mana.

In Sheoldred decks specifically, however, there's little doubt that a two-mana card that can either get you that value with a little lifegain on the side or kill an opponent at a low life total is strictly superior.

Honorable Mentions

It hasn't escaped me that I've been creating a ton of Stormy decks lately, and all I can say is, I can stop whenever I want!

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At first I thought my only payoffs for casting so many rituals and draw spells would be Professor Onyx, before realizing that with Sheoldred out, there were a ton of lifegain triggers to take advantage of. Combine that with a few Underworld Dreams effects, and this deck can really aggressively drain out a table with nothing but a ton of spells that make mana and draw cards. What's not to like?

As for what we didn't cover in our top ten this week, there aren't a whole lot of leftovers. Astute readers will note that I did sneak in some of the more efficient options for drawing cards that don't target other players, just to keep my spell count up, so let's start there.

The "Scry 2" portion of Read the Bones really lets you dig down for one of your big, impactful spells or engines, which is more than enough to have it included in the deck. Night's Whisper may not be quite as great as Sign in Blood in mono-black, but this is also clearly a case of "why not both?". The real diamond in the rough of black card draw that can only affect you, however, is clearly Pointed Discussion. Even in a deck that doesn't care much about self-mill, you're ecstatic to pay three mana to draw two and then create a blood token that will let you rummage for another later on, especially when all of that just means more lifegain triggers for you to abuse.

While the whole idea this week was to play around with the idea of a mono-black burn deck, there are some more "permanent" options that are just too powerful to ignore with Sheoldred:

It didn't take long for people to think of Teferi's Puzzle Box when Sheoldred first got spoiled, and it's not hard to see why: Having each opponent lose 10-14 life every turn (or more, if you have them draw more cards in the interim) while you gain the same is going to win you most games, to put it lightly. Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted isn't quite that good, but there's something to be said for tacking on another damage to Sheoldred's draw trigger, not to mention forcing two more draws and six more life while taking out a problem creature. Fell Stinger has been making a lot of Aristocrats decks happy over the last year, but I don't think I could have told you that it could target any player until I saw it show up in my Scryfall search.

Finally, there's a bunch of you that have been biting your tongues as best as possible about just how bad things could go giving your opponents all this card advantage, which is why for you there's one last category we just have to go over: Loot effects.

Dark Deal and Memory Jar are the only wheel effects available in mono-black, and they're both absolutely amazing with Sheoldred. Rankle, Master of Pranks and Anvil of Bogardan are in a similar (if slower) vein, and are absolutely worth a look in most builds, even if they're spell-centric. Lastly, you'd be wise to grab a spot for Geier Reach Sanitarium (and maybe Mikokoro, Center of the Sea) in your landbase, even if you are trying to keep your Swamp count high!

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?

The Phyrexian Praetors have a bit of a reputation about them, and are all over the top of the salt list. I personally think, however, that Sheoldred is the least oppressive of the lot, besides maybe Urabrask. With that in mind...

Finally, what is your favorite black "burn" spell? Where do you come down on Phyrexian Arena versus Sign in Blood? Do you think you could make an interesting brew of Sheoldred, or are all of her decks destined to more or less look about the same?

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the tilted table where all the cards slowly slide down to one end.

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.

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