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Strixhaven Standard Set Review with Ali Aintrazi
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Black Death

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There are more than forty different black creature removal spells in Standard; yet, a typical Standard deck using black removal will usually only run between four and ten removal spells total in its sixty-card main deck. Which ones are worth playing in Standard, and why? How do you decide which ones are right for your deck? With so many black decks in Standard at the moment, so many good creatures needing to be removed, and so many options of how to remove them, I decided to take a closer look.

Casting Cost

Tragic Slip
This is probably the most obvious criterion to consider when choosing removal for your main deck. Obviously, for the purposes of this discussion, you’re playing black, but how much black? Are you playing other colors, too? Which ones? What is your curve like, and how much mana are you running? The simplest approach here is a card like Tragic Slip or Wring Flesh. There isn’t any free black removal in Standard right now, so 1 mana is the best you’re going to find. There are good reasons there are multiple decks in the format (W/B Humans and The Aristocrats) that are running four Tragic Slips as their only removal.

Some of the best black removal requires additional colors, such as Abrupt Decay, Auger Spree, Dreadbore, Putrefy, and Orzhov Charm. Other good removal requires a much greater commitment to black, such as Corrupt and Mutilate. Murder is one of the best possible removal spells in function—“Destroy target creature.”—but are you willing to spend 3 mana, including two which that have to be black, in order to play it? While Tragic Slip is quite common in Standard, Murder is nowhere to be found. Every point of mana is crucial, and understandably, most people just aren’t willing to pay three times the cost for their removal if they can help it.

Versatility

Devour Flesh
One of the worst things you can do when building your deck is put dead cards into your deck. If you put Doom Blades into your deck and you are paired up against someone playing with only black creatures, you have dead cards in your deck, and you’re starting the game at a disadvantage. One of the best ways to avoid this problem is to use cards that are versatile. Probably the most versatile cheap black removal is Devour Flesh. If your opponent is playing with any creatures at all, it will kill something. It doesn’t matter what the color or cost, and it doesn’t matter whether it can be targeted or if it can regenerate. If for some reason your opponent doesn’t play any creatures that you want to kill or you just need some life, you can even target yourself and gain some life.

Corrupt and Essence Drain are extremely versatile because they can also be used to deal damage directly to your opponent, but their high casting costs usually make them less than ideal. Perhaps the most versatile black removal spell is Orzhov Charm since it has multiple functions it can be used for. If you’re playing mono-black, your most versatile targeted option is Murder, but as discussed, it’s just a bit too pricey most of the time. While you limit yourself in terms of versatility by playing cheaper removal such as Ultimate Price or Doom Blade, if you have a good understanding of your metagame, it’s usually worth the inherent risks to save the mana. Jund and Golgari control players deal with the versatility issue by playing small numbers of many different removal spells, such as between one and two Doom Blade, Tragic Slip, Abrupt Decay, Putrefy, Sever the Bloodline, Dreadbore, and so on.

Synergy

Mutilate
Another major factor to consider when choosing the suite of removal for your deck is how it will synergize with your deck. This is one of the reasons for the popularity of Tragic Slip. As a 1-mana instant, Wizards had to limit what Tragic Slip could do. Giving -1/-1 to a single creature actually seems too weak, even for just 1 mana. The balancing factor is Tragic Slip’s morbid ability, which makes it grant -13/-13 instead. Most decks might have trouble setting up or triggering morbid at the desired times, but thanks to Cartel Aristocrat, W/B Humans and The Aristocrats have a way to achieve morbid at will, thus making Tragic Slip an incredible 1-mana removal spell in their decks thanks to that synergy.

Various types of limited mass removal, such as Mutilate, Barter in Blood, and Gaze of Granite can be powerful, especially in a deck that they synergize with. Barter in Blood is good if you are have creatures that make you willing to sacrifice creatures, such as Thragtusk, Blood Artist, Doomed Traveler, or Xathrid Necromancer, or if you have some tokens lying around thanks to Huntmaster of the Fells, Gather the Townsfolk, Lingering Souls, or the like. Mutilate is good if you have either very big creatures or creatures like Thragtusk or Doomed Traveler that replace themselves. Gaze of Granite goes well with a deck with mana-ramping and expensive creatures.

Metagame

Sever the Bloodline
While it’s good to have removal that goes well with your deck, it’s even more important to have removal that matches up well with the metagame. As I mentioned previously, having dead cards in your deck can be fatal, and a good understanding of the metagame is crucial to choosing removal that will be useful when you draw it.

If decks are using creatures that are useful when they go to the graveyard or while they’re in the graveyard, perhaps you should exile them with Sever the Bloodline or Merciless Eviction. If creatures are untargetable, such as in Bant Auras, perhaps you should either play with sacrifice effects like Barter in Blood, Devour Flesh, and Tribute to Hunger or with mass removal like Mutilate and Gaze of Granite. If most threats are cheap, consider Abrupt Decay, especially if there are counterspells being used in the metagame. If the metagame doesn’t favor Doom Blade or Ultimate Price, consider cards like Dreadbore, Murder and Putrefy.

Top Picks

Doom Blade

  1. Tragic Slip -1/-1 is surprisingly useful in Standard at the moment, with juicy targets such as Falkenrath Aristocrat, Blood Artist, Champion of the Parish, Knight of Infamy, Stromkirk Noble, and various Elves running around. If you can get it to give -13/-13, you can kill almost anything in the format with a 1-mana instant. The four most popular black archetypes are all usually running at least one Slip.
  2. Doom Blade This classic effect is so powerful for a 2-mana instant that three out of four of the most-played black decks are typically running at least one copy in their main decks—despite the number of black creatures running around. The number of decks being played in the format right now with zero targets is close to zero.
  3. Putrefy The two most popular black decks in Standard also run green. This card is among the reasons for that, with its power and versatility overcoming its cost.
  4. Abrupt Decay In a dead heat with Putrefy, most B/G decks run one or two of each. It may not be quite as versatile as Putrefy, but the lower cost and the fact that it can’t be countered make up for it.
  5. Mutilate The conditional mass removal provided by this card is so powerful that it’s even being used in decks that aren’t mono-black, thanks to Swamps like Overgrown Tomb and Blood Crypt.
  6. Dreadbore This versatile removal spell can usually be found in the main deck of Jund and in the sideboard of B/R Zombies.
  7. Sever the Bloodline The abilities to exile creatures, to sometimes kill multiple targets with one card, and to be played again from the graveyard have found this expensive-but-powerful card a spot in many Golgari control decks.

 


 

If you’re planning on playing black in Standard, usually one of the main reasons is black’s ability to deal death to opposing creatures. Don’t let black’s plethora of powerful death-dealing options lead you astray—choose your deadly tools with care. Take the testing time to find the card or cards that are best-suited to your deck and to your metagame.


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