By Roberto Moser • May 3, 2017
Black is an amazing Colour in Commander. Not only it manages to be pretty good on its own, it is also an amazing support Colour for Guild, Shard and Wedge strategies. At its core, Black is quite possibly the one Colour that is able to do almost everything you need in Commander. Massive board wipes? Check. Card advantage to fuel your long games? Check. Ramp? Check. Tutoring for combos and answers? Check. Graveyard recursion? Check, check and check.
Black is not only an amazing Colour if you want to play an expertly crafted good deck, but it also lends itself to simple, intuitive strategies that can be quickly grasped by a newcomer. You can play Black Control, you can play Black Aggro, you can play Black Combo.
So is Black the best Colour in Commander? No, not at all. Despite it being very good and versatile, there are things it just struggles with. And while this is definitely part of its charm and it leads to interesting and creative deckbuilding choices, it is also true that the limitations of the Colour can be very real. First and foremost, a cutthroat Meta filled with Counterspells will be a very tough environment for a Mono-Black deck. You just can't win a Counterspell war with just Dash Hopes and Withering Boon up your sleeve.
Secondly, removing Artifacts and Enchantments is extremely problematic. While some of you might be huge fans of Gate to Phyrexia and even Phyrexian Tribute - someone here at MTG Assist surely is! - the struggle to keep up with Memnarch or Bosh, Iron Golem is real. And it gets worse when Enchantment-based strategies hit the board, helmed by Zur, the Enchanter, Daxos, the Returned or Krond, the Dawn-Clad. All Black can do, at that point, is hoarding Colourless answers to otherwise hardly manageable threats. Oblivion Stone, Engineered Explosives, Perilous Vault and even Karn Liberated become valuable options. Although I hate Karn Liberated so please don't play it.
What Black lacks in threat prevention and non-Creature removal, it makes up in value. Between insane card advantage and unparalleled Graveyard recursion, Black decks just have more resources than their opponents. And with Tutors allowing precise card selection, the resources are not just more, but also better. This makes Black one of the best – if not the best – Colours to play Combo strategies. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Triskelion, Exquisite Blood and Sanguine Bond, Leyline of the Void and Helm of Obedience are just three of the most direct and effective two-card Combos Black has access to.
In addition to this embarrassment of riches, Black is also great at finding alternative ways to win the game. Sure, combat damage is a great option if you want to ride your Grave Titan to victory. But you can just play Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Kokusho, the Evening Star and drain all the life from your opponents. Or take Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon out for a spin and see how fast people are going to hate you. Who needs tense Aggro games when you can surprise-drain everyone's life, or poison a player in a single shot? Black is great at finding the other – usually the unfair - angle of attack.
Black to the Point of the Article
Without further ado, it is our pleasure to introduce you to to the first issue of our new “Commander Staples” series, a collections of articles where Joseph and Roberto discuss their favourite cards in a certain Colour, Colour combination, theme or concept, in no particular order.
As you might have guesses, Black is the name of the game for this first issue. By combining their experiences during countless hours of deck-building, gameplay and tinkering, our two Commander aficionados have gathered their list of the best Black staples for the format. And because we love some conflict - and it just felt appropriate for an article about Black cards - we have pitted Joseph and Roberto against each other, in a one-on-one discussion over the best cards of Commander.
Joseph: “I'm going to start off my inclusions with cards that I see almost no one else utilize, but have been a staple in my decks because of their consistent usefulness. Sever the Bloodline and Silence the Believers are two cards that do something which Black typically does not have access to very often: Exiling. Black has tons of ways to destroy creatures or force opponents to sacrifice creatures. But, how do you permanently get rid of a substantial creature threat without relying on sending it to the graveyard and then hopefully having some graveyard exiling abilities? That's a combo I'm not willing to bank on. I want a hard answer to that Eldrazi menace. Sever the Bloodline is great because it can not only exile a single target, but can remove a large token army as well if need be. Plus, it has Flashback! Silence the Believers can be great tech against Voltron Aura decks, as it gets around Totem Armor abilities and can get rid of all those attached auras as well while you're at it. That's card advantage potential, folks. If I'm already using sacrificing effects as a means of removal, I use these two cards as part of my targeted removal suite.”
Roberto: “I must be honest, I immediately started browsing Black cards that actually exiled a Creature. Turns out you are so very right, I never realized how Black was inconsistent in the exiling department. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Perilous Vault, as it gets around pretty much everything. But managing a rogue Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in Mono-Black never felt so easy! That, or you can go all -in on the Sacrifice effects. When it comes to my opponents, the only good Creature is a dead Creature!”
Roberto's #1 pick: Bitterblossom
Roberto: “Let's get it out of the way: Bitterblossom is awesome. The card that was supposed to break Modern is just a fantastic value engine in the hundred-card Format. Sure, a 1/1 might not seem much, but consider this: it's an endless source of chump blockers, it's a Divination engine when you have Skullclamp out, it's amazing when you have to maintain board presence, it's never-ending cannon fodder for sacrifice outlets and the art by Rebecca Guay is gorgeous. It's just value, on top of value, on top of value.What is even better is that it can fly under the radar, if you manage to not abuse it too much in the first turns. While cards like Phyrexian Arena and Necropotence are immediately identified as very powerful, Bitterblossom might manage to feel innocuous. Until, of course, it's too late and the engines start rolling. Try this card in your deck, there is a good chance you will not regret it.”
Joseph: “I hate to be any level of disagreeable right out of the gate, but I'm not as high on this card. If I'm ticking life away while playing Black, I'd rather be drawing cards. Sure, generating tokens is good, but this is a bit underwhelming in Commander for me, personally. I would definitely put this into consideration if, say, I were playing Black-Green and had access to Parallel Lives and its ilk to get more value out of it. Great card, but not one I'm jumping at the bit to play in my Commander deck.”
Roberto: “But that art!”
Joseph's #2 pick: Erebos, God of the Dead
Joseph: “Okay, another card people might not expect to be on here, but hear me out. Erebos, God of the Dead does two things people playing black usually do anyways: draw cards at expense of life and prevent the opponent from gaining life. He is like a hyped up Greed. Unlike Underworld Connections, his drawing can be used more than once a turn to dig deeper into your library and he is indestructible, which prevents the Green and Red section of the color pie from having many viable means to get rid of him. He also prevents your opponents from gaining life, while still allowing you to wield those Drain Life-styled effects yourself, making him a better Everlasting Torment in most respects. It also doesn't hurt that he can become an indestructible offensive weapon later in the game. If you need a Greed, I would always use this guy.”
Roberto: “Now you're talking! Erebos, God of the Dead is a beast, especially when he is not a Creature. Dealing with him when he is just an indestructible Enchantment is so absurdly painful. And while he doubles up as a decent beater, it gives he is best when there is little to no way to deal with him. The only caveat I'd add is that this card becomes dramatically worse when you start adding Colours to your deck. While he is still potent in a two-Colour deck, three Colours often mean you won't be able to activate his ability more than once or twice in a turn. Lucky for you, we are talking Mono-Colour, so, yes, he is awesome!”
Roberto's #2 pick: Corpse Dance
Roberto: “Two things are good in Commander: card advantage and reusability of resources. And ramp, sure, also ramp. But mostly card advantage and reusability of resources. What if I told you there is a card that is the definition of reusability and card advantage? Enter Corpse Dance and its amazing potential. Recur a Creature over and over again? Sure! Generate continuous enter the battlefield triggers? Why not! Use a good chunk of your Graveyard as a resource throughout the game, replaying your utility Creatures, your fatties and your support Creatures in a never-ending barrage of stuff hitting the board? Yes, please! Corpse Dance is the honest and decent card that looks funny until it breaks the game. And you thought that Wrath of God was taking care of your problems…”
Joseph: “Now, I can get behind the ability this inclusion offers. I love recursion and reusability. This is a card that can go in most strategies that include Black. Only concern: Would you run this card over Whip of Erebos?”
Roberto: “This is an excellent question. I think this is essentially boils down to the purpose the card serves. Whip of Erebos feels like a more generic, all-purpose card that nets you some life and can provide one-shot recursion to your Creatures. Exiling the card you just reanimated is a big deal, unless you are able to sacrifice it and essentially ignore the exile clause. Corpse Dance is amazing at soft-locking the board. Pair it up with Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed and you can re-use almost all of your Graveyard. Not to mention, Corpse Dance doesn't actually stay on the board, so it is was less vulnerable than the still awesome Whip of Erebos. If I were to give a short answer, I'd say “run both”!”
Joseph's #3 pick: Sheoldred, Whispering One
Joseph: “Now, here is a card most people are going to expect on a list like this. She has seen play in every deck-type you can think of that has Black as one of its colors… and I do mean every type. She does what Black wants to do: remove your opponent's creatures while resurrecting your own. She can be an effective commander, but her high mana cost makes you really have to build heavy mana acceleration. Where she really shines, though, is in your 99. She's going to get your opponents' attention, as she can very easily swing a game so far in your favor that it's impossible for them to overcome.”
Roberto: “I love Sheoldred, Whispering One. I play her whenever I can and she is hands down one of my favourite Legendary Creatures ever. However, she is one of the biggest lightning rod you can possibly have in this format. She is amazing, her stats are awesome and she provides an insane amount of value as long as she manages to survive. But she has been hit by so many Path to Exiles and Hero's Downfalls, I am alway afraid of casting her.”
Roberto's #3 pick: Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Roberto: “Now, here we get a bit tricky. Gray Merchant of Asphodel is an absurd bomb that will win you multiple games. Or it's a mediocre Creature that really doesn't do much. Seriously, there is no middle ground. If your deck is heavily devoted to permanents and can generate a lot of devotion to Black, then this card is going to be absurd. To the point of becoming the best card of your deck, if you manage to recur it or blink it. If you are playing the tense Control game with almost no non-Land permanent and actually a bunch of Colours in your arsenal, then Gray Merchant of Asphodel might be a huge disappointment, draining a couple points of life and then dying miserably. But if Black is your Colour and permanents are your game, play “Gary”. Play it, recur it, reanimate it, blink it. You will win the game so fast and brutally, you won't believe how powerful a five-Mana Common can be.”
Joseph: “I have seen the power of this card myself. It's fun to play and can be a darkhorse contender for the most beloved card in one's deck. You've pretty much covered the ups and downs associated with it. I agree, this card deserves to be on the list.”
Joseph's #4 pick: Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Joseph: “If this list was a numbered / ranked list, this card would be pretty high up for me. I would include this card in any and every deck that uses Black mana. It is essentially a Swamp itself and turns every other land in play into a Swamp as well. In mono-Black, it reinforces your color identity. In a multi-colored deck, it turns all of your lands into dual lands that guarantee access to Black Mana. That's huge in Commander. Never turn down a land that can fix all of your mana so adeptly. Plus, it can just make underwhelming - and even terrible - cards absurd. Take Whispering Shade for instance. With this land out, Whispering Shade becomes and unblockable nightmare that can grow in power equal to the number of lands you have available. Yeah. That's the power of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.”
Roberto's #4 pick: Phyrexian Arena
Roberto: “If you are playing Black, chances are you are playing Phyrexian Arena. A card draw outlet that simply exists and nets you one additional card each turn is just amazing. Sure, it will drain you life, but can you put a price on a constant card draw engine? Yes, you can, and apparently the price is only three Mana. What sells this card is its extremely cheap cost, compared to the long-lasting effect it produces. Setting up a game with this card on Turn 3 - or even Turn 2, if you manage to sneak a Sol Ring on the board at the start of the game - is amazing. Be aware that the more experienced players will go after your Phyrexian Arena as soon as possible, because this card just wins games. And, unfortunately, Mono-Black is not famous for its Enchantment recursion capabilities.“
Joseph: “Phyrexian Arena is another “must have” for card draw in Black for me. It's a one-sided Howling Mine at the cost of one life a turn. That's an okay trade-off in my book. See, this is what I had in mind when you mentioned Bitterblossom earlier. I'd rather be paying one life a turn to dig deeper into my deck.”
Roberto: “How about both? Also, throw in a Mana Crypt and your are cutting your life short of - potentially - five life each turn. But, I mean, can you put a price on greatness?”
Joseph: “How very… Black-minded of you. Touché, mon amie. Touché.”
Joseph's #5 pick: Damnation
Joseph: “The pinnacle of Black's mass removal. Essentially cheap in Commander at only four mana and guaranteed to wipe every creature from the board not nailed down with indestructibility, you can't find a more consistent card for it's slot in your deck. Whether you are playing Control or just need it as reassurance in combo or aggro, this is a nigh auto-include in a deck with Black in it. Not much else to say about it. It is just flat out good.”
Roberto: “Let's be honest: this card is rightfully mentioned every single time someone discusses the best Black cards for Commander. It's amazing, it's an auto-include in pretty much any Black deck and it's one of the most iconic effects of Black. Which is iconic, because the card is technically a Colour-shift from White. Now, the question is: is this the best Black Wrath ever? How would you compare it to Toxic Deluge, Black Sun's Zenith and the other typically good mass removals?”
Joseph: “Toxic Deluge is absurd, but requires good life-gain to be super effective long term and offset the cost. Black Sun's Zenith can be really good as it gets around indestructibility, but you need some extra heft to your mana pool to take out the absurdly large creatures that can surface during a game of Commander. Damnation is top of the list for me simply because of its efficiency and consistency.”
Roberto: “I will just add that Mono-Black also has access to Mutilate, arguably an amazing Wrath effect in Black-only decks that do not want to run to many non-Swamp cards - or alway have access to Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. The amazing aspect of Mutilate is that, in Mono-Black decks, it's just the best of the breed, combining the relatively low cost of Damnation with the -1/-1 advantages of Black Sun's Zenith. Sure, you can't fully scale it and it might feel limited against Creatures with a Toughness higher than the Mana Cost, but the card is really nice. Aside for the art, which, despite being very well done, is too disturbing, even for my standards.”
Joseph: “Come on! Who doesn't like some good, ol' fashioned, Indiana Jones-styled face melting? In all seriousness, though... Yeah. It's pretty creepy.”
Roberto's #5 pick: Contamination
Roberto: “If you are an awful player, you play Mass Land Destruction. If you are a half decent player who wants to play something close to Mass Land Destruction, but not actually Mass Land Destruction, you have Contamination. Sure, everyone gets to keep his or her Lands, but how about screwing the Colours for everyone, except yourself? At the price of a single miserable Creature at each of your upkeeps - did I already mention I consider Bitterblossom a bomb in Commander? - Contamination might as well read “if your opponents do not play good bunch of Coloured Mana Rocks, you slowly win the game”. Slowly. Painfully. “Oh, you have a Disenchant in hand? Too bad your Plains only produce Black Mana! Acidic Slime? Nice Black Forest you have, there!”. I mean, you are not destroying the Lands. They just produce Black Mana. Which is unfortunately one of the worst Colours to deal with Enchantments. Unfortunately. If you really, really want to drown all your table in a black hole of frustration and oppression, then Contamination is probably the card for you.”
Joseph: “While powerful, this card isn't going to make you any friends. I would only play this card if either there was an opponent who really needed to be taken down a notch or I just really felt like being the bad guy that day.”
Roberto: “You mean, sometimes you do not want to be the bad guy? Come on, you are playing Mono-Black! Evil and mischief are more than in order!”
Joseph: “Flavor-wise, I'd agree. But, when it comes to having people willing to play with me? I'll pass on this card. I like having human friends to play with.”
Roberto: “This is so non-Black of you!”
Joseph's #6 pick: Grave Titan
Joseph: “Is there anything you can't like about Grave Titan? It's a 6/6 for six mana that spits out 2/2 Zombies at an alarming rate. The sheer, raw power of this card is amazing and so efficiently costed. Deathtouch might seem out of place on such a large body, but don't underestimate that keyword in a format that often sees creatures reach absurd power and toughness levels. If you get any kind of evasion and/or protection on this creature, your opponent is going to feel the pain. The token output is absurd. Don't just use this guy as a recursion target. Sure, he is a prime target for that strategy and if it gets him out early, by all means do it. But, cast him from your hand first if possible to get the maximum amount of impact, as that is an entire serving of ten power for six mana before you even need to use up resources to get him out of the graveyard. So much power. So much advantage. I love this card so much.”
Roberto: “You had me at ten points of power for six Mana. But then you went all-in with increased advantage at each attack step and deathtouch. Which I agree is way more relevant than it might look on the surface, as it means this card can attack through a lot of giant blockers. I mean, even if Grave Titan dies as soon as it hits the board, you have paid six Mana for four points of power and a discard effect - effectively netting your opponent one card. Still pretty decent!”
Roberto: “If you play sacrifice outlets, Grave Pact is a bomb. If you play Tokens, Grave Pact is a bomb. If you play Aggro, Grave Pact is - you guessed it - a bomb. Grave Pact is an extremely valuable - and surprisingly versatile - board control resource for all your Creature-based decks. Either a pseudo-symmetrical board wipe or an amazing deterrent to make critical board states even more critical, Grave Pact is just fantastic. Though you might want to avoid this card in Voltron-based strategies or in decks that play less than twenty Creatures, I would recommend to almost always give this card a shot in Black-heavy strategies that involve Creatures dying. If you like the card, it is worth mentioning that Grave Pact has two amazing friends in Dictate of Erebos - which, despite the higher Mana cost, might be even easier to cast outside of Mono-Black - and Butcher of Malakir - arguably more vulnerable being a Creature, but you get five points of Flying power.”
Joseph: “I run Grave Pact and Dictate of Erebos in my Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest Commander deck with lots of Eldrazi Scion tokens and other sacrificing outlets. Let's just say that this card is absurd when the engine gets going. This is an excellent card in almost any build that includes Black as one of its colors. At the very least, it's a potential deterrent to your opponents' targeted removal. They have to make sure they have the fodder to pay the Pact's price before they snipe one of your creatures.”
Joseph: “Yep! It's so combo-rific, that it makes even my Izzet heart sing.”
Roberto: “If you ever feel limited as a Izzet player, please note that there is an interesting variation of Izzet that gives up Red for Black. It's an amazing Colour pair and I don't think it really has a name.”
Joseph: “Oh, yeah! I remember! I believe it's called: “What is it we do besides mill again?” ; )”
Roberto: “Not cool, bro. Not cool.”
Joseph's #7 pick: Shizo, Death's Storehouse
Joseph: “While we are throwing lands in here for Black, I'm putting another card I feel does not see enough play. Shizo, Death's Storehouse is way, way underrated. First, it's a land that gives a legendary creature you control - a.k.a. your Commander - evasion while also producing black mana. Oh! But wait! It also comes into play untapped! That means you can turn one this utility land and still be able to get that turn one Sol Ring out. That means that if you are going Voltron with your commander, this land is perfect for your strategy! Even if you are not doing so, it fits into any deck and sits there waiting to enable one of the Legendary Creatures at your disposal to make it into the red zone.”
Roberto: “Let's not forget the fact that this Land enters the battlefield untapped means you can put it into play and immediately provide evasion to your Commander. Surprise Volton beatdown is alway nice! Second: the flavour text is so extremely edgy and videogame-y, I just love it so much! Awesome Land is awesome!”
Roberto's #7 pick: Necropotence
Roberto: “If Phyrexian Arena is not explosive enough for you and you want to really delve into your deck, Necropotence is likely going to be your favourite toy. With an insane card advantage output, the card is often found in Combo decks that want to tutor for specific key cards. While its restrictions are unquestionable - skipping your draw step and renouncing your Graveyard is a real deal - the advantage this card can provide is immeasurable. Pay thirty-something life and you are effectively netting more than a third of your deck. You are almost guarantee to find what you are looking for or a tutor to fetch the key card you are looking for. That said, the card is also one of the most blatant red flags of the format, as it usually leads to quick - if not immediate - victories. Play this card if you really want to combo out and win the game. But don't expect people to just leave you be when you are evidently digging for a combo piece.”
Joseph: “Yeah… this is a bullseye on your forehead if there ever was one. It's insane level of power is unmistakable. Playing this card is like handing your opponents a note that says “Kill me now… or else!” It's fun to play around with it. It's one of those cards from Magic's past that you put on your “bucket list.” You gotta play it at least once in your life.”
Roberto: “Or even more than once! Despite its apparent linear nature, this card is everything but intuitive! If you are a fan of Magic from back in the days, there are some amazing matches from Magic's history that revolve around Necropotence and are absolutely amazing to watch! Necropotence is rightfully one of the most famous cards from Magic's past and it really feels amazing to still see it played, even if just in Commander.”
Joseph: “So true. Just play it, people!!!!”
Roberto: “... Or keep your friends! Or don't! Play Mono-Black and let everyone hate you!”
Joseph's #8 pick: Liliana Vess
Joseph: “This incarnation of our favorite necromancer is the poster child for the Black slice of the color pie. It is a discard engine, a reusable tutor, and an endgame mass-recursion machine. If you are going to include any one planeswalker in your Black-aligned Commander deck, this card tops the list. Other Black planeswalkers may have potentially higher upsides in some regards, but those cards also have greater downsides to match and offset them. Liliana Vess is a model of consistency. At the very least, she is going to be a five Mana tutor. That's her worst; being an expensive tutor. If that is the least a card is going to be out of it's many forms, it's an auto-include for me. If she stays on board for several turns, she is going to net you several choice cards from your library and either cause the opponent to discard or enable you to get a card you want in your graveyard out of your hand and where it needs to be. If you are going for recursion and are upticking her to get your creatures in the ‘yard and ready for resurrection, the opponent had better remove her. That ultimate is all but game ending, even if your own graveyard is the only one bringing you goodies.”
Roberto: “I must be completely honest here: Liliana Vess has been in my Grimgrin, Corpse-Born Commander deck for years. She is a powerful tutor effect that works exceptionally well if you are able to protect her and reuse her at least once. More recently, I found myself cutting the card - and it was not easy, let's be honest! - because I found her failing to deliver on a crucial axis: she doesn't immediately provide the card. So if you are in a hurry and really need a key removal, she can't really do the job for you. While many will argue that her effect is perfectly reminiscent of Vampiric Tutor, it is also true that Vampiric Tutor is an Instant - meaning it can be cast during your upkeep or at the end of your opponent's' end step. More often than not, Liliana Vess has generated a lot of panic in my playgroup, as all the table got very nervous and tried to stop me from acquiring the card I had on top of my Library. Solid card, but I'd take my Diabolic Tutor all day over her!”
Joseph: “I usually have Liliana Vess as just one of many tutors in my deck. My usual suite of tutors looks like: Liliana Vess, Vampiric Tutor, and Diabolic Tutor. I always felt these were the most “balanced” of the tutors as a casual player. That's why you never see a Demonic Tutor in my decks. I actually like that balance of either cheap tutor but wait for a card, or expensive tutor and get the card now. Liliana Vess is that awkward middle ground where she is more expensive as a tutor and yet still forces you to wait for what you picked out of your deck, but that trade-off comes with re-usability.”
Roberto: “I'm on the awful person side on things, here: I play Diabolic Tutor and Demonic Tutor because I want the card and I want it now. And sure, I might pay a couple extra Mana, but unconditional Tutor with no cost aside for Mana is amazing. To quote Queen “I want it all and I want it now”! And since we are speaking about Tutors, I think it's time to flawlessly segue into my next pick.”
Roberto: “Let's address the elephant in the room: tutors. If you play Commander, you might want to play tutors. While not paramount - some playgroups might as well discourage the use of tutors to promote a more varied gameplay - tutors can be very, very good. And, fortunately for Black, this is the area where the Color shines the most. Demonic Tutor is the posterchild for cheap and powerful fetching capabilities, Vampiric Tutor and the - very - expensive Imperial Seal are two great options. If you fancy even more options, Beseech the Queen is very decent in Mono-Black and Diabolic Tutor is still a very nice and cheap alternative to the more expensive cards. What makes these cards great in Commander is the fact that they easily defy the core concept of the formats: if a hundred card provide an amazing level of randomization, tutors let you find that one card you need to save a game, to solve a complex board state or to assemble your combo. While I agree that too many tutors can hurt and lead to very repetitive games, I am absolutely in favour of running a couple, just to make sure you are able to grab that key piece of removal when you need it.”
Joseph: “I agree with almost everything you said. Tutors are Black's strength and though they can lead to narrower gameplay, they can also be a form of balancing that enable access to removal if there is one player about to run away with the game because of something they have on the battlefield. As a fan of tutors, I more worry about what you are tutoring. If you are playing more casual games, I'd forgo tutoring for combos.”
Joseph's #9 pick: Cabal Coffers
Joseph: “I'm gonna use this slot in the discussion for a card that is a must have (in my opinion) for mono-Black Commander decks: Cabal Coffers. For mono-Black decks, this land is essential. While not the best early on, this card grows in power as the game progresses. The more Swamps you get onto the battlefield, the more mana you are going to be able to pump out with this land. If you add in Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, which I talked about earlier, this land counts itself and any other utility land you have in play toward its ability. That's some amazing synergy. This is definitely a “mono-Black only” sort of card, but its potentially absurd mana production warrants addition to this list.”
Roberto: “The only criticism I can raise, here, is that Cabal Coffers severely underperforms if Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is not out as well. Or, in all honesty, it's still a very decent card, but she really doesn't shine as much as she would do alongside Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. So now comes the crucial question: what's the Cabal Coffers package? How many Expedition Map-like effects would you play, to make sure that Cabal Coffers can always shine alongside its Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth friend?”
Joseph: “There are other cards to help out. For one, Blanket of Night can effectively act as another copy of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, as it provides the same result mechanically. Cabal Coffers is going to always be in a deck that needs lots of mana, so it should have support in your build by default. Decks that have mana-intensive commanders, like Sheoldred, Whispering One which we mentioned earlier, will want this card and will probably have other mana ramp as well. Sol Ring alone can make Cabal Coffers worth it, as the land can at the very least act like a black mana filter.”
Roberto's #9 pick: Yawgmoth's Will
Roberto: “Yawgmoth's Will is the best Black card ever. Period. When a card is banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage, it usually turns out to be pretty good. Guess what? It's even better in Commander. Yawgmoth's Will gives you a one-turn explosion of value, with your entire Graveyard suddenly becoming available for reuse. Replay a Fetchland, cast your dead Creatures, play Instants and Sorceries, put your Mana Rocks back into play. This card will win you games when you are running out of resources, it will save you when you are in desperate need for cards, it will apply pressure when you need to seal the deal. When the worst thing you can do with this card is replaying a Creature and maybe return a Land to the board, you know you are up for a lot of awesomeness.”
Joseph: “Yep. This card is a powerhouse. Especially in mono-Black. That reminds me… I think I have a couple of enablers for this card in mono-Black you might find interesting.”
Roberto: “I think I know what's coming…“
Joseph: “We cannot leave a list like this without one more important entry: sacrifice outlets. Some might argue that they are the most important aspect of Black in the Commander format. We've already danced around them with the inclusion of Grave Pact and various other card discussions throughout this list. Now, we have to get down to business. Sacrifice outlets do several things for Black. First, they are a means to pay extra activation or casting costs. Secondly, they act as a means to trigger effects and card interactions. Both of these we've outlined above. So I'm going to concentrate on the last aspect and one that many overlook. So, finally, sac outlets are Blacks primary form of protection. Green and Blue have Hexproof on their creatures. White has “Protection from” abilities. What does black have? The occasional regeneration? That's pretty disappointing. For a color that loves killing things as much as Black does, you'd think it would know how to keep its own critters safe from the same. Oh! But Wait! It does! As we've also displayed in these conversations, Black is also the numero uno color for… You guessed it… Recursion. So, how does this work together? Well, if an opponent targets your creature for exiling or to steal and gain control, you can just use an instant speed sacrifice outlet to put that creature safely into your graveyard and out of harm's way. Then, just bring it back into play. ‘Cause you're a Black mage! That's what you do! Whether you are triggering card draw, adding mana, combo-ing off, or just saving your team from oblivion and/or enslavement, sac outlets make a Black Commander deck run on all cylinders. Never leave home without them!”
Roberto: “Always, always, always loved a sacrifice outlet in my Black-X Commander deck! It works amazingly to prevent stealing effects and void targeting. Not only that, but sacrificing in Black is almost always an upside, as the Colour can really do degenerate things with Creatures leaving the Graveyard. Yahenni, Undying Partisan is only the most recent in a list of amazing Commanders exploiting sacrifice as a mechanic. It works. It just works.”
Roberto's #10 pick: Black Sun's Zenith
Roberto: “If Joseph gets Damnation, I want Black Sun's Zenith. One of the best mass removals in the format, Black Sun's Zenith is the epitome of what Black does best: invest a ton of mana to completely obliterate the board. “Nice indestructible Creature you have there!”. “Ouch, you wanted to regenerate your board?”. Black Sun's Zenith is amazing at getting around various forms of protection and, moreover, is scalable. This is something that might easily be overshadowed by the raw power of the card, but let's not forget that you can easily shape your Black Sun's Zenith to only remove certain cards on the board, leaving your Grave Titan or your Sheoldred, Whispering One alive. Sure, they will be wounded, but they will still be there on the board. Compared to Toxic Deluge, another amazing Black mass removal, Black Sun's Zenith doesn't even cost you life. Sure, it is more expensive, Mana-wise, but if you are playing Mono-Black, chances are Mana will probably not be a real constraint, to you.”
Joseph: “Mana can still be a potential issue with Black Sun's Zenith, but that isn't really a good enough an excuse to avoid playing the card. It's reusable mass removal that side-steps regeneration and indestructibility. That's good enough. Plus, it could potentially keep you from decking yourself. So, there is also that! ;)”
Fade to Black
One of the most interesting aspects of Black is that its staples offer an amazing variety of effects and design concepts, while simultaneously providing an excellent glimpse into what the Colour supposed to do according to the Colour Pie.
Black is one of the best Colours for managing Creatures and we see so many great examples of its proficiency in removing individual threats, as well as in devastating entire boards. From the spot removal effectiveness of Sever the Bloodline to the indiscriminate devastation unleashed by Damnation, from the sacrificial power of Grave Pact to the evil oppression of Sheoldred, Whispering One, Black is always excellent when it comes to dealing with Creatures. While not famous for its own beaters, Black still has some amazing gems in the Creature department, like Grave Titan.
Needless to say, between tutoring, drawing cards and reusing the Graveyard, Black is also amazing at providing card advantage and ensuring card quality. Despite being the second most proficient Colour in the card drawing department - I'm looking at you, Blue! - Black is always there to draw you cards with a very low Mana investments. Just be prepared to lose some life in the process, because everything comes at a price, in Black.
So what is Black all about? Between removals, card drawing, tutors, recursion, sacrifice and creepy Grave Titans, Black might really look all over the place, with a blurry and undefined identity. But if you look closely, you will realize that Black shines the most when it's all about value.
Black draws cards at the cheapest Mana cost, it reuses resources in the most effective and efficient way and it is amazing at dealing with multiple threats all at once. Black does its things amazingly, cheaply and efficiently, taxing your life total in exchange for an amazing power output. Do you want cheap tokens? Sure, pay one life! Do you need to draw cards? Absolutely, just pay one life! Do you have to destroy a lot of Creatures cheaply? Just pour your life into a Toxic Deluge and save a lot of Mana! Are you in the mood for a big Creature? Pay a lot of life and Reanimate it!
Black can be an amazing Colour for both veteran and new players, as it provides an incredible amount of options and possibilities, asking only some life points in exchange. And with forty life at your disposal, Commander really is a great format to abuse life-taxing spells. However, Black has its limitations, which, on one side, can really cost you the game - how do you manage a Karametra, God of Harvests deck if you are Mono-Black, seriously? - but, on the other, really help defining what Black is and what it can and should o.
Blue on Black
The price Black pays for all this raw power, aside for the relevant tax on your life total, is in its focus. There are certain things that Black just can't do, such as managing Enchantments or putting additional Lands on the Battlefield. While there are ways to circumvent these limitations, Black has to often turn to the other Colours to complement its strategy, gathering the tools it needs to fill the blanks.
White is the easiest countermeasure to Black's passion for life loss. Wizards has often associated White-Black to life draining, to the point of designing extort as one of the core Orzhov mechanics. But White as even more to give! Enchantment and Artifact removal can be easily accessed by adding White to your Black deck and the plethora of mass removals in White provide even more toys to Control strategies. It's easy to dictate the pace of a game when you can killswitch the board at your will. Orzhov decks can easily shift between Token-based strategies with Teysa, Orzhov Scion to Enchantment-based strategies with Daxos, the Returned, to lifegain with Karlov of the Ghost Council.
Red, on the other side, can give the additional push towards an all-in strategy. White Rakdos has been typically designed and developed as the aggressive Guild, the pairing of Black with Red lends itself to multiple different ideas. Try Control or Vampire Tribal with Olivia Voldaren, enjoy the shenanigans of Grenzo, Dungeon Warden or punch people in the face with Kaervek the Merciless. Or just embrace your aggressive nature with Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch. The most interesting thing Red provides to Black - aside for some interesting ways to manage Artifacts - is the ability to really exploit the direct damage angle of attack. From Mogis, God of Slaughter to Vial Smasher the Fierce, attacking your opponent's' life total has never been so easy.
Green balances Black's obsession with death with a lot of life. Between a parade of giant Creatures, some lifegain options and a passion for abusing the Graveyard much like Black does, Green can really provide a nice boost to Black. Throughout history, the Golgari Colour pair has displayed a lot of different incarnation, from the classic life-and-death theme of the powerful Meren of Clan Nel Toth, to the +1/+1 counters of Reyhan, Last of the Abzan and Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest, from the lifegain of Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper to the -1/-1 theme of the recently printed Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons, from the Tribal focus of Nath of the Gilt-Leaf to the Land-oriented strategy of The Gitrog Monster. And let's not forget Green is amazing at managing the non-Creature threats Black can struggle with.
Blue is typically considered the Control Colour, which means pairing Black with Blue can easily lead to some extremely powerful Control builds. With an huge amount of card draw power, it's easy to build a Dimir deck to abuse card drawing. Sygg, River Cutthroat is an excellent Control Commander, perfectly playing with the strengths of the Colour Combination: passively drawing card whenever life loss is involved. Dimir has often been presented as the mill Guild by Wizards, with a lot of interesting build-arounds, like Phenax, God of Deception, Szadek, Lord of Secrets and Oona, Queen of the Fae, which turns infinite Mana into an immediate victory. But if pure Control is what you look for, there is also Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, Lazav, Dimir Mastermind or Dralnu, Lich Lord. Between the card advantage of Black and Blue and all the Control toys you can gather between the two Colours, it's easy to build an excruciatingly good Control deck by simply merging together the best cards Dimir has to offer.
So what do you think? What's your favorite Black card to play in Commander? What is the most powerful Black card you can think of? And why is it Yawgmoth's Will?
As always, thanks for reading! May your card draw be always absurdly efficient and your Tutors abundant and, most important, unconditional!
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