War of the Spark Set Review – Black
(Liliana, Dreadhorde General | Art by Chris Rallis)
Evil Has Come to Ravnica
War of the Spark is the culmination of a very exciting storyline, and like many, I've been watching this spoiler season, riveted, as WotC has released card after jaw-dropping card. This set features some impressive twists and innovations, such as static abilities on planeswalkers, beloved lore characters finally appearing on cards, and even a sprinkling of old mechanics surreptitiously inserted into the set. Today I have the very great honor of talking about black, the best color in Magic, and let me just say before we even begin that this set's black cards have been spicy indeed.
Let's get to it!
Liliana, Dreadhorde General
First up, Liliana, Dreadhorde General is one of the most important cards in the set story-wise, and the power of her card reflects that. Her passive ability draws you a card whenever a creature you control dies, even if it's a token! Up until now, cards in this vein (like Harvester of Souls, Grim Haruspex and Midnight Reaper) have all had a nontoken restriction. Her +1 makes Zombies that will protect her (and draw you cards when they die) and her -4 is a repeatable Barter in Blood. Oh, and the ultimate? A backbreaking, one-sided Cataclysm-style ability that will leave opponents hard-pressed to recover.
There are plenty of decks eager to add Liliana to their roster. Meren of Clan Nel Toth and Teysa Karlov love death triggers, and Ghoulcaller Gisa or other Zombie tribal decks will surely love the added token generation, not to mention the extra card advantage. If Harvester of Souls can see play in more than 11,000 decks, you'd better expect to see Liliana taking its place (or buddying up with it) in tons of decks very soon.
Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted
Combining elements of group hug with punisher effects, Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted is a pretty unique black card. His static ability deals one damage to any opponent whenever they draw a card, making him right at home in any Nekusar, the Mindrazer build. His -2 ability force-feeds two cards to a player at the cost of one of their creatures. At five loyalty, Nixilis can hit up to two creatures before he effectively turns into a fragile enchantment. You may not end up wanting to activate his ability, to make sure he sticks around as another Fate Unraveler, but it's good to have the option.
This kind of card screams politics. It's the kind of card I'd expect to see in a Xantcha, Sleeper Agent or Mogis, God of Slaughter deck. Just be careful about which player you allow to draw all those cards.
Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage
Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage is sort of the inverse of Ob Nixilis. Rather than giving cards to opponents and punishing them for it, he's interested in stripping your opponents of cards, and punishing them for that instead.
A problem Discard decks can run into is that their opponents run out of cards to discard. Megrim and Liliana's Caress won't do very much once the rest of the table is in top-deck mode. Davriel is a twist on The Rack, squeezing extra punishment from Hellbent and "heckbent" opponents. While his -1 ability only hits one opponent, it can be pretty useful keeping a powerful player off balance. Won't see play in decks that aren't dedicated to discard effects, but in those strategies, it's another good option.
Finale of Eternity
Finale of Eternity is an efficiently-costed removal spell for cheap utility creatures, mana dorks, and tokens. You can destroy three tiny creatures for just three mana, and the more mana you sink into this spell, the better its targets will be.
But wait, there's more! Like the other cards in the Finale cycle, you get an extra boost if you cast Finale of Eternity for twelve total mana or more. In this case, you get to reanimate your whole graveyard. That's a pretty big reward, and while twelve mana is usually a tall order, black has access to Cabal Coffers, Crypt Ghast, Nirkana Revenant, which will all ensure you get your maximum value. Setting up a big mana combo mid to late game is probably ideal, since you'll have had time to dump some threats into the graveyard. I'm not sure if I like this card more than Command the Dreadhorde (coming up soon), but it's definitely cool, and has a very high ceiling. I'm sure I'm not the only one excited to get my hands on a copy for playtesting. If you're in mono-black and have tons of mana, give this a look.
Reprocess is back, and it grew a 5/6 body with menace. God-Eternal Bontu is a really interesting build-around commander. The obvious route to go with her is creature tokens, but there are some other cards that don't mind being blown up. Mirrodin Besieged block gave us a cycle of artifacts that give Bontu's ability a little extra oomph, including Ichor Wellspring, Mycosynth Wellspring, and Spine of Ish Sah.
However you build her, Bontu screams for Grave Pact, Dictate of Erebos and Butcher of Malakir to keep your opponents' boards clear. If you run her in the 99, it would be well worth picking up a Martyr's Bond so your opponents lose artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers whenever you do.
(Oh, and if you put her into the 99 of a deck like Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder or Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest, I think they'd be pretty pleased!)
Bolas's Citadel has gotten a lot of hype, and it seems good. Really good. Really, really good. If you have some way to skip over lands, you can potentially cast your whole deck, making this an Omniscience and Enter the Infinite combo all in one card. Ad Nauseum, eat your heart out.
The synergies with Sensei's Divining Top have been expounded upon, but for those unfamiliar, you can tap the Top to draw a card, put the Top back onto your library, then pay 1 life with the Citadel to replay the top, tapping it to draw a card... and so on. That combo feels quite a bit like Yawgmoth's Bargain, a very banned card. Throw in something like an Aetherflux Reservoir to not only gain back your life, but to gain so much of it that it's easy to snipe down your opponents all at once.
So will this card go the way of Yawgmoth's Bargain and get banned? I suppose it's possible that the Rules Committee is watching it, but who knows. People were immediately calling for the banning of Paradox Engine, and that's still legal. Happily, this card can be used even in decks that aren't seeking a broken combo; plenty of traditional lifegain decks, for example, are happy to exchange life for card advantage, since they can make it all back. However it shakes out, it goes without saying that this card is very strong and is going to see a lot of play the moment War of the Spark is released.
Command the Dreadhorde
Command the Dreadhorde is the best thing to happen to reanimation decks since Living Death and I will be picking up a metric ton of them to run in all of my decks. Yes, all of them. Mono-black, Golgari, Sultai, mono-blue, Selesnya, Temur, everything. Every deck is getting a copy.
Command the Dreadhorde is also one of a select few cards including Obzedat's Aid, Primevals' Glorious Rebirth, and Yawgmoth's Vile Offering that can reanimate one or more planeswalkers. Paying six mana feels like the right mana cost for this effect, and taking damage equal to the total converted mana costs of everything you bring back? It's fine. We're in black. We can bring back Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Kokusho, the Evening Star or some other card from an opponent's graveyard that gains a bunch of life. If you really want to prepare for the hit your life is going to take, you can even run damage prevention effects like Personal Sanctuary, since Command the Dreadhorde doesn't cause loss of life, but deals damage, which it much more preventable. This is another automatic staple. Start bumping other cards out to make room.
Deliver Unto Evil
We haven't seen Regrowth effects in monoblack since Shrouded Lore in Planar Chaos, and let me tell you, Deliver Unto Evil is no Shrouded Lore. It's much better! I'm not just saying that because of the flawless Seb McKinnon art, either. Deliver Unto Evil is fine to cast just for value, such as by selecting a couple of board wipes and removal spells, but I'd watch out for combo decks running this. They'll likely choose four cards that are all bad news, no matter which pair they're allowed to retrieve. The ability to bring back artifacts, enchantments, instants, and sorceries is quite strong for black, and the Realms Uncharted-esque clause on it can lead to some fun, skill-testing moments.
Bitterblossom is back, and this time it's going tall instead of wide. Dreadhorde Invasion is great for Zombie tribal decks and for commanders who want cards that pump out sac fodder, such as Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire, Sidisi, Undead Vizier, or Ghoulcaller Gisa. If the token sticks around for a while it can even gain you back the life you've invested. I don't think this card will be quite as popular in other formats as Bitterblossom is, so it should be a good budget option for the foreseeable future.
Well hello there, board-wipe-that-can-be-my-commander! We just got a card like this in Ravnica Allegiance in the form of Rakdos the Showstopper, and in some ways, Massacre Girl is even better than him. She costs less, her effect can be more reliable, and she can remove indestructible creatures fairly easily. Quick tip: running cards that give out small token creatures like Forbidden Orchard could be a fun way to help start Massacre Girl's board wipe chain.
While cards with effects like these are very exciting, it's possible that giving players access to a repeatable board wipe in the command zone will slow the format down and allow combo and stax decks to get a more entrenched foothold on the game. My most recent article showcased three potential creatureless builds for Rakdos the Showstopper that all win by grinding everyone's board developments to a halt. I think Massacre Girl is just a more efficient vehicle for this sort of strategy, so watch out.
Those of us following the lore had guessed that the upcoming Elderspell would be a board wipe of some kind, but boy howdy, what we got is much more interesting than anything I imagined. For the next six to twelve months planeswalkers are going to run rampant in EDH, and for just two mana, the Elderspell lets you destroy any number of them while skyrocketing one of your planeswalkers up into Ultimate range.
This card is situational...ish. Sometimes you'd just be better off running Aether Snap, but when the Elderspell really goes off it's going to blow your opponents into outer space. If you have a black planeswalker as your commander, give this one a good think.
Eternal Taskmaster is a solid body for two mana that doubles as a Raise Dead engine. This card looks like a solid workhorse. It's not flashy, but it gets to work early and it does what it does pretty efficiently. It could shine in something like Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. I like the looks of it for Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest and Whisper, Blood Liturgist.
A one-sided, instant speed Innocent Blood for one more mana, with additional upside? Yes, please! Liliana's Triumph is perfect tech for Liliana, Heretical Healer since your commander lets you get that free power bump, but even without that, this card is gas. It's basically a Fleshbag Marauder with flash for one less mana. The creature versions are usually recurred from the graveyard in their respective decks, but still, this card is a nightmare for Voltron decks (though it's not so hot against tokens) and a nice new option if you find Vona's Hunger inconsistent.
Price of Betrayal
Not since Aether Snap have we seen a card like Price of Betrayal. Cards like this have a very unique role in the game; they're niche, but potentially very strong. Against Meren of Clan Nel Toth or Aminatou, the Fateshifter the card is a blowout, but if you aren't facing a planeswalker commander or a commander that accrues experience counters, the card will still likely find a target in a stray planeswalker or something like Hangarback Walker. It isn't going to hose the deck in the same way, but you'll still get some value out of it.
Kaya's Ghostform seems like a standard effect on the face of things, but look a little closer. Yes, it can go on a creature or on a planeswalker, and yes, it brings them back when they die...or are exiled! That is a big deal. This card offers proactive protection against some of the biggest, baddest removal boogeymen in the format. Merciless Eviction, Utter End, Anguished Unmaking, Path to Exile, just to name a few. Plus, you even have the option to use it like a one-time Journey to Eternity. Granted, this card is sorcery speed, so your opponents can see it coming and potentially do something about it, but all in all, this card is really solid for just one mana.
Spark Harvest is a strictly strictly better Bone Splinters. Targeted planeswalker removal is something we've never gotten at common before. It may be packaged into a sorcery, but it's a versatile one. Destroying any creature or planeswalker at the cost of a single black mana and one measly creature is a crazy good effect; plenty of decks run Diabloic Edict and use the sacrifice as a bonus rather than a downside. Besides, if you're out of creatures, you can just pay more mana. This is one of my favorite removal effects in this set.
Finale of Eternity
Those are my hot takes for the black cards in this set. Do you agree? Disagree? Did I miss anything? Greatness at any cost - what price are you willing to pay? Let me know what you think in the comments below, or on Twitter @Grubfellow where I tweet #dailyEDH microcontent.