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Fifty Under Five: Black Label Edition

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Last year, I was able to take part in Bruce Richard’s revamping of the multiplayer Hall of Fame on The Mothership. If you’ve ever seen an eight-year-old girl getting a pony for her birthday, you can guess how I felt seeing my article on that site.

I’m proud of the work we did getting the list of the top fifty multiplayer cards in each color, but the Hall is stuffed with expensive cards—badass bombs, but none too friendly on your mana curve. Even casual decks need to pay attention to their curves. That’s why, as a public service, I’ve prepared an additional list of fifty lesser-known multiplayer champs that cost less than 5 mana. Some of them are all-stars in their own right, some are just support cards, but all of them are cheap, and all of them are worth putting in decks. Most of them are also very budget-friendly.

Today, I’m going to look at cards that can go in a mono-black Commander deck (because I’m me), but I am told that some people play other colors, and I can come back with those articles if there’s enough interest. Longtime players might know all of the cards on this list and use them regularly, but if you see a card you don’t recognize, you really owe it to yourself to check it out.

Dudes!

Deathgreeter
Deathgreeter Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble are popular to the point of tedium, but this black Soul Warden is an undervalued version of a similar ability.

Pilgrim's Eye

Liliana's Shade Shade and Eye are great for developing your mana base . . . a poor man’s Solemn Simulacrum at least, but the Eye is a better blocker (and gets around that nasty protection from black), while the Shade is occasionally strong enough to finish an opponent in the late game

Nantuko Shade

Silent Assassin It’s less famous than the Royal Assassin, but it’s an efficient beater early and a solid rattlesnake in the mid- to late game

Vampire Nighthawk

Wicked Akuba

Consumptive Goo These cards all offer reasonable board presences in the early game, but they have a big enough impact to remain relevant in the late game. This is absolutely one of the most important ingredients for a multiplayer deck. You have to make early plays, cast multiple spells a turn in the midgame, and keep up with your opponents’ bombs in the late game.

Liliana's Reaver

Sangromancer

Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
Korlash, Heir to Blackblade These three are a little more expensive but are still relevant at any stage of the game. Korlash is an archetypal commander for mono-black aggro but is even better in sixty-card decks, wherein his grandeur ability combines combat trick, ramp, and color-fixing.

Will-o'-the-Wisp Breaking hearts since 1993, black’s best 1-drop almost never sees play. If you need an early board presence, pick up four of these, and plug them into a deck that needs the love.

Necroskitter As mentioned in my Modern Masters 2015 Edition review (sorry, I started this list before MM15 was spoiled), this may take a little bit of Johhnying, but the potential payoff from Necroskitter is well worth it. And even if you can’t cast your Black Sun's Zenith right away, a fat-bottomed creature with wither is a reasonable rattlesnake.

Rotlung Reanimator Another build-around card if you want to maximize its value, old aqualung is still good value in any multiplayer setting because of the recent surge in the Human creature type.

Dross Harvester It will cost you 4 life each turn, but the potential payoff is huge . . . at the very least, you should be able to stay even on life while beating down with a huge beaty thing.

Agent of Erebos This is one of the best graveyard control spells in the game.

Kheru Bloodsucker

Soulcage Fiend You don’t need haste when you can guarantee your critter does damage to each opponent when it dies. Howling Banshee works just fine, too . . . I run both in my Erebos, God of the Dead deck.

Blood Seeker

Disciple of Bolas Curiously, this cheap creature just grows better as the game goes longer. You can drop him on curve (2 life and three cards from the aforementioned Soulcage Fiend is already fantastic value), but in the late game, he can be used to sac something huge and provide a massively game-winning boost in both life and cards.

Kinda Dudes!

Twisted Abomination
Twisted Abomination The A-Bomb might belong on the list of dudes above, but this smaller group is for cards that aren't expected to hit the table—or at least won’t usually stay there for long. He does technically cost 6, but I invariably cycle him . . . because mana.

Bone Shredder This is strictly disposable . . . although I do encourage you to recycle.

Slum Reaper Do you realize that there are now two cards that are almost strictly better than Slum Reaper (Fleshbag Marauder and Merciless Executioner)? This blows my mind; I still play Slum Reaper in a bunch of Commander decks because you can never have too many Innocent Blood effects.

Fleshwrither This forgotten gem is a superstar in my Sheoldred, Whispering One deck, fetching utility ramp and removal cards, creating life-gain, or enabling graveyard shenanigans with Necrotic Ooze or Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed.

Dimir House Guard I love the transmute mechanic, but while there are options at different mana costs (up to CMC 6 in mono-black), Dimir House Guard is the one I use most. 4 mana seems to be the sweet spot between helping you catch up (Solemn Simulacrum, Thran Dynamo, Skyshroud Claim, for example) and cards with the power to win you games—or set you up for the win (speaking of which, when the hell will they reprint Damnation!?). Before she was banned, my Xiahou Dun deck used this to search up Braids, Cabal Minion, along with Smokestack, Umbilicus, and a couple of other back-breakers. Plus, DHG is a very useful chump-blocker/sac outlet if you ever have to cast it.

Kill Dudes!

Tragic Slip An important stage in the evolution of any casual player is the realization that spot removal (cards that target a single permanent) is not as efficient as sweepers (cards that remove multiple permanents). But equally important is the realization that instant-speed spot removal is still crucial to your success because it lets you react to specific threats that target you.

Malicious Affliction
Malicious Affliction Did you notice this? For bb, you can have two Terror effects! This card belongs in every mono-black deck.

Sudden Death Split second . . . ’nuff said!

Eye of Doom I could probably write a whole article on how to use this properly, but suffice it to say: You really should be using this.

Seal of Doom Rattlesnakes win games.

Tribute to Hunger Is this the best sacrifice effect in the game? Could be! Sorceries are good, but sometimes, you need instant-speed removal against that hasty, untargetable, Bruna, Light of Alabaster. For only 1 more mana than Diabolic Edict, Tribute to Hunger solves your Bruna problem and lets you gain a ridiculous amount of life!

Consuming Vapors Did someone say life-gain? Consuming Vapors is a reasonable kill spell the first time you play it, but it can also send a signal to the rest of the table not to play any creatures until after your next upkeep. If you are trying to control tempo or protect your Planeswalkers, this can give you a huge advantage.

Tendrils of Corruption Okay, this life-gain thing can’t be a coincidence. Tendrils only hits creatures, not players, but it has all the drainy goodness of Corrupt for just 4 mana. Nobody expects you to gain a significant amount of life from your spot removal, making this incredibly swingy.

Sudden Spoiling Take a dump on your opponents’ best-laid plans. This is hands-down the best spider effect in black.

Get Dudes Back!

Corpse Dance
Death Denied This is a mid- to late-game tempo swing. See also Footbottom Feast and Bone Harvest.

Wail of the Nim Okay, regeneration isn't quite the same thing as returning things from the graveyard, but mass regeneration can be very powerful, and nobody expects it from a black deck.

Body Snatcher Regrettably, this is a Minion rather than an alien, but this card performs both functions that a reanimator deck needs in one convenient package. Fill up your ’yard now, and restock your board position later. Naturally, the creature you dump when Body Snatcher enters the battlefield doesn’t have to be the one you return when it dies. You might just keep it on the board as insurance against a Damnation.

Reanimate Life is meant to be spent, and the ability to get goodies from any graveyard can be very swingy.

Grim Return Any graveyard. Instant speed. That is all.

Corpse Dance Technically, it costs 5 mana to buy back, but Corpse Dance has to make this list because it wins games single-handedly. No lie, this is the best reanimation spell every printed.

Not Dudes!

Liliana's Caress When Megrim was printed in Stronghold, it singlehandedly revolutionized discard decks. It has been reprinted a bunch, but just once, they slipped up and printed something that was far superior.

Liliana of the Dark Realms
Liliana of the Dark Realms In Spike World, Liliana of the Veil is the big news, soaring in value to around $100, but for the casual tribe, Lili III is the headliner. Drop her early to smooth out your land drops for the duration of the game—or late to kill something scary. She can also turn a midsized creature into a one-shot kill. Sure, she is a potential target in the early game, but she usually fetches you at least two Swamps (including shock lands), and she has the potential to be so much more. All three iterations of Liliana are solid, but for my money, Liliana of the Dark Realms is the one I want in my opening hand every game.

Syphon Mind At one time, Syphon Mind had a home in Alongi’s Hall of Fame, and it still earns a place in many of my decks. It usually lets you draw three cards for 4 mana, which is very efficient, and there is no life cost. Also, a little bit of discard can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing.

Infernal Tribute Sac outlets come in handy in all kinds of situations, and card-draw wins games.

Dark Ritual Still the king! I don’t see it much in Commander, but it is great, especially if you have a big gorilla for a commander. My opponents are always counting my mana, playing around my ability to cast a card like Thraximundar or Sheoldred. Dark Ritual lets me cast my bombs when my opponents don’t expect them, which can be back-breaking.

Skeletal Scrying The delve mechanic from Khans of Tarkir taught new players the value of using your graveyard as a resource, but old players already learned this by playing Skeletal Scrying. Exiling cards in your graveyard in order to draw new cards can be extremely potent, and the minor life cost is well worth it.

Temporal Extortion There are no bad outcomes here.

Beseech the Queen This is one of the best budget tutors out there, and it’s played far less than the comparable Diabolic Tutor.

Ritual of the Machine This provides permanent creature theft in black for the very reasonable cost of sacrificing a creature.

Helm of Possession And here’s temporary creature theft in any color for the very reasonable cost of sacrificing a creature.




Erebos, God of the Dead
Those are my fifty budget-friendly cards to fill in the lower end of your mana curve. Unlike the Hall of Fame, I’m not claiming that this list is somehow definitive, but I thought it was important to remind folks that being a Timmy doesn’t have to mean playing with unwieldy decks or having your hand permanently stuffed with uncastable fatties. Likewise, playing cheap spells doesn’t have to mean giving up power or flexibility . . . You just need an eye for a bargain.

Let me round this out with a decklist that exemplifies the advantages of low mana curves in multiplayer. Erebos, God of the Dead, like all of the Theros-block Gods, rewards you for putting a lot of mana symbols on the board early. In addition, his activated ability encourages you to leave a couple of mana open every turn so that you can draw extra cards. Taken together, this means cheap spells are the key to success. My own take on Erebos started with the idea of creatures like Black Knight, and then it expanded to old-school spells that punish black’s traditional enemies in green and white. Western and Eastern Paladin are the kind of thing I’m talking about here. Black even has a couple of cards that punish people for having nonblack cards in their decks, so I put those in here in favor of more powerful artifacts like Lashwrithe and Nightmare Lash (which are otherwise bonkers with Erebos). The result is The Blackest Deck in the World. You can see the decklist below and take it for a spin here.


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