Building_on_a_Budget

A dose of randomness sends Ben in an unusual direction.

The Final Five: Black!

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The letter H!ello everyone, and welcome to Building on a Budget, the column dedicated to building decks that cost 30 tickets or less using Magic Online! In the past, we've usually started with a deck list and evolved it over a series of playtesting games, tweaking a card here and a card there. But I thought to myself, "Self, if you were confronted with a random pile of cards, how would you evolve that deck?" And from that thought, we have today's column: black!

Black, as a color in Magic, has many facets. One facet is dedication to the accumulation of power through any means possible. This is played out through sacrifice, self-discard, and loss of life. Black also deals in the supernatural horrific (skeletons, zombies, and the undead), reanimation (tied in to the theme of the dead), discard (again, playing on the theme of horror, except more mental than physical), and the draining of life (Corrupt / Consume Spirit type effects that are vampiric in nature). Black also likes directly killing creatures. Whereas the domain of red is dealing direct damage, the domain of Black is outright removing creatures from the board, with cards like Terror or Shriekmaw. Direct damage in black is usually tied to the vampirism theme.

Now let's talk about rarity. Rarity does not necessarily denote level of power, which is important! Compare Lightning Bolt (common) to Urza's Rage (rare). Lightning Bolt is a much more efficient spell than Urza's Rage: it costs two mana less and deals the same amount of damage. Urza's Rage has some extra perks—can't be countered, can be kickered for a lot of mana—but if you're looking to play the "objectively" better card, you'd probably go with Lightning Bolt.

Thankfully, Magic isn't a game of purely objectively better cards; if that were the case, there would be one deck that always won, and no other decks would stand a chance. Instead, Magic is a game of interaction and strategy—some cards interact better amongst themselves than other cards, and some cards interact against your opponent's cards rather than interacting with your own cards.

Take a handful of creature removal spells: Tendrils of Corruption, Corrupt, Consume Spirit, Terror, Shriekmaw, Last Gasp, Sudden Death, Eyeblight's Ending, and Nameless Inversion. Is any one of these objectively better than the others? No. Why not? Because while each of these cards can kill a creature, none of them function identically.

Consume Spirit: Sorcery speed. Scales with mana invested. Can deal damage to opponents.

Corrupt: Sorcery speed. Scales with Swamps in play, but always costs six. Can deal damage to opponents.

Eyeblight's Ending: Instant speed. Can't kill Elves (including changelings). Tribal.

Last Gasp: Instant speed. Can't kill creatures with toughness > 3. Can kill indestructible creatures.

Nameless Inversion: Instant speed. Can't kill creatures with toughness > 3. Can kill indestructible creatures. Tribal.

Shriekmaw: Sorcery speed. Can be played at two or five mana. Can't kill black or artifact creatures. Can attack each turn if played for five.

Sudden Death: Instant speed. Can't kill creatures with toughness > 4. Generally uncounterable.

Tendrils of Corruption: Instant speed. Scales with Swamps in play, but always costs four. Can't deal damage to opponents.

Terror: Instant speed. Costs two mana. Can't kill black or artifact creatures.

Which is better, Nameless Inversion or Last Gasp? Last Gasp will allow you to shrink a creature more easily to chump block it, if you can't kill it outright... but Nameless Inversion can pump your own creature with toughness > 4 to deal an extra 3 damage, interacts with tribal cards (Wort, Boggart Auntie anyone?), and has two card types for Tarmogoyf. Though these two cards are extremely similar (both are black two-mana instants that shrink a creature's toughness by 3 for a turn), they can have wildly different uses and interactions in-game!

So let's tie together the essence of black with the essence of rarity and the interaction of convergent cards. Rare cards tend to be the biggest, splashiest effects in a set. Again, this does not mean objectively more powerful, but it does usually mean more complicated (more lines of text, more rules involvement). Rares tend to be more flavorful than commons, because often commons are doing the grunt work—be a creature with one keyword, destroy an artifact or enchantment, no frills asked. If you're stuck for a place to start a deck, usually you'll look to your rares (or uncommons, in some cases—there are a lot of build-around-me uncommons in Magic) more than your commons for inspiration.

The reason I bring this up? I went through all of the Extended-legal rares available on Magic Online, and made a list of every monocolored one that cost half a ticket or less. I left all artifacts, lands, and gold cards off these lists, but included hybrid cards, because they can be played in a monocolored deck. My goal? Start a deck with twenty-five basic lands and thirty-five completely random low-cost rares (remember, these all cost half a ticket or less, so the total cost of this deck will be 17.5 tickets at most—and many of these rares trade at three for a ticket, four for a ticket, or five for a ticket!).

Abyssal Horror Final Punishment Memory Plunder Reiver Demon
Abyssal Nocturnus Gangrenous Goliath Midnight Banshee Roiling Horror
Æther Snap Ghastlord of Fugue Midnight Ritual Sanguine Praetor
Akuta, Born of Ash Ghastly Remains Mindslicer Scarblade Elite
Andradrite Leech Gibbering Descent Mirri the Cursed Seizan, Perverter of Truth
Ascendant Evincar Gleancrawler Moonlight Bargain Seize the Soul
Auntie's Snitch Gravespawn Sovereign Morality Shift Sengir Nosferatu
Bane of the Living Greater Harvester Moriok Rigger Sengir Vampire
Bellowing Fiend Greed Mortal Combat Shadow of Doubt
Blood Funnel Grim Reminder Murderous Betrayal Shambling Swarm
Boggart Mob Grinning Demon Myojin of Cleansing Fire Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker
Cabal Conditioning Havoc Demon Necrogen Mists Shriveling Rot
Cabal Patriarch He Who Hungers Necroplasm Sickening Shoal
Cabal Shrine Head Games Nefarious Lich Silent Specter
Cairn Wanderer Helldozer Nefashu Sins of the Past
Call to the Grave Herald of Leshrac Nettlevine Blight Skeletal Vampire
Cemetery Puca Hero's Demise Neverending Torment Sleeper Agent
Chainer, Dementia Master Hex Night Dealings Soul Collector
Colfenor's Plans Hint of Insanity Night of Souls' Betrayal Soul Spike
Consumptive Goo Hollow Specter Nightmare Spiteful Visions
Cover of Darkness Hollowborn Barghest Nihilistic Glee Spoils of the Vault
Curse of the Cabal Horobi, Death's Wail Nim Devourer Stalking Bloodsucker
Cursed Monstrosity Hunted Horror Null Profusion Stenchskipper
Dawn of the Dead Hypnox One with Nothing Strongarm Tactics
Death Match Imp's Mischief Oppression Stronghold Assassin
Death Pit Offering Iname, Death Aspect Pain's Reward Stronghold Overseer
Death Pits of Rath Infernal Contract Patron of the Nezumi Temporal Extortion
Decaying Soil Infernal Kirin Persecute Tombfire
Demonic Collusion Kiku, Night's Flower Phage the Untouchable Toshiro Umezawa
Desecration Elemental Knucklebone Witch Phyrexian Delver Traveling Plague
Din of the Fireherd Kuon, Ogre Ascendant Phyrexian Etchings Tyrannize
Dire Undercurrents Kuro, Pitlord Phyrexian Infiltrator Unliving Psychopath
Doomed Necromancer Kyoki, Sanity's Eclipse Phyrexian Plaguelord Vampiric Spirit
Dread Larceny Plague of Vermin Vermiculos
Dregs of Sorrow Last Laugh Plague Sliver Void Maw
Drinker of Sorrow Lethal Vapors Plague Wind Warped Devotion
Dross Harvester Liege of the Pit Planar Despair Weirding Shaman
Eastern Paladin Lim-Dul the Necromancer Planeswalker's Scorn Western Paladin
Ebonblade Reaper Living End Polluted Bonds Wit's End
Empty the Catacombs Lord of the Pit Promise of Power Woebringer Demon
Endemic Plague Mad Auntie Pulse of the Dross Words of Waste
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder Magus of the Abyss Rag Man Wound Reflection
Entrails Feaster Magus of the Coffers Ratcatcher Yawgmoth Demon
Fallen Angel Magus of the Mirror Repentant Vampire Yawgmoth's Agenda
False Cure Maralen of the Mornsong Reprocess Yukora, the Prisoner
Fendeep Summoner Masked Gorgon Revenant  

There were 185 different black rares that cost half a ticket or less on Magic Online, spanning from Invasion through Shadowmoor. I went to www.random.org/integers/ and asked for 35 random integers between 2 and 186 (because column 1 on my spreadsheet was a header column for color). Here's the results I got for the 35 rares for this week's deck:

9 Bane of the Living
20 Cemetery Puca 
21 Chainer, Dementia Master
22 Colfenor's Plans
28 Death Match
30 Death Pits of Rath
43 Empty the Catacombs
44 Endemic Plague
51 Gangrenous Goliath
56 Gravespawn Sovereign
69 Hollow Specter
71 Horobi, Death's Wail
84 Last Laugh
85 Lethal Vapors
97 Midnight Banshee 
104 Mortal Combat
105 (x2) Murderous Betrayal
108 Necroplasm
115 Nightmare
116 Nihilistic Glee
123 Persecute
125 Phyrexian Delver
134 (x2) Polluted Bonds
139 Repentant Vampire
149 Sengir Vampire
155 Silent Specter
156 Sins of the Past
165 Strongarm Tactics
166 Stronghold Assassin
170 Toshiro Umezawa
177 (x2) Warped Devotion
183 Wound Reflection

Since I didn't want to start with any duplication, I rerolled the second copies of Murderous Betrayal, Polluted Bonds, and Warped Devotion. The rerolls were:

98 Midnight Ritual
122 Patron of the Nezumi
179 Western Paladin


So you may ask "Ben, this is a completely random deck lacking in any cohesion, and it's filled 100% with rares, aside from the basic lands! How is this either Building or on a Budget?" And my answer is this: 30 tickets or less, folks—and the above deck, we're looking at about 10-12 tickets worth of cards. Moreoever, this is Building on a Budget at probably it's purest form of all! I am taking what is essentially a highlander theme deck of 35 black budget rares, seeing what works and what doesn't, and evolving the deck from there. After the initial 35 rares? All bets are off. I can include any commons, uncommons, or rares that make the cards in the deck work, as long as they stay within the budget. But the catch is that I really want to find which cards interact well with one another, and focus the deck on these cards! Will Nihilistic Glee feed Phyrexian Delver? Will I ever get threshold on Repentant Vampire? Is there anything that can bounce permanents for Warped Devotion (well, probably not—expect this to get cut)? The only way to find out? Shuffle up and let er' rip!

Game 1: Bluevictorious (Golems)

I get down Chainer and Horobi. Bluevictorious gets down a bunch of Golems, drops Mycosynth Golem, plays double Brass Herald for free, puts down four more Golems (including Bosh, Iron Golem) and swings for a zillion on the following turn. If only I had a way to target creatures!

Record: 0-1

Game 2: maisonnucleaire (Red-White Elemental Blink)

Maisonnucleaire starts with three Inner-Flame Acolytes in a row, and puts Squee's Embrace on two of them. I am thrown almost immediately into chump-blocking mode, with Western Paladin, Strongarm Tactics (discarding Patron of the Nezumi), and Midnight Ritual. I drop down Nightmare to act as a more permanent blocker, and get knocked down to one life...only to draw and drop Chainer, Dementia Master. He pumps Nightmare to 8/8....but since I am in a chump blocking-to-stay-alive situation, I also get Nightmare removed from the game when Chainer dies! Talk about strange card interactions!

Record: 0-2

Game 3: lemmywinks007 (White-Red Aggro)

Lemmywinks007 starts with Boros Swiftblade, and I get down Toshiro Umezawa, which quickly dies to Lash Out. He then plays Fists of the Anvil on his Swiftblade and knocks me for 10 damage! I get stuck on three lands and start discarding cards, and he continues to hit me for 2 a turn. At 4 life, I get Hollow Specter, and he suspends Arc Blade. I trade creatures, and he drops Slith Ascendant. I can't get a fourth land still, and he attacks for 1, plays Relentless Assault, and attacks for 2, and I concede.

Record: 0-3

In a deck with a lot of high-cost black cards, I'm finding that 25 lands just aren't enough. For my first cut, I simply take out five cards that don't have much use in this card pool and add in five Swamps. I'd rather get land flooded (especially since I have cards that can take advantage of extra lands, such as Nightmare) than not be able to play any spells at all.

Out: Death Pits of Rath, Mortal Combat, Sins of the Past, Strongarm Tactics, Warped Devotion
In: 5x Swamp

Game 4: dragonbear (Wildfire)

Dragonbear casts double Riftwing Cloudskate, taking my Lethal Vapors and my Murderous Betrayal off the board with each one. Dragonbear also casts multiple Compulsive Researches and Sleight of Hands, putting Pyroclasms in the graveyard, allowing him to play a 7/7 Magnivore. I use Murderous Betrayal multiple times until I am at 1 life, at which point he plays Rift Bolt to kill me.

Record: 0-4

Game 5: dragonnw (Elf Warriors)

I get Toshiro Umezawa, and follow him with Lethal Vapors (which gets hit by Spring Cleaning), Hollow Specter, and Nightmare. Dragonnw drops Obsidian Battle-Axe and Cloudcrown Oak, but my 6/6 is larger than his 5/5. He then drops Ambush Commander, and I drop Cemetery Puca. I swing in with both of my flyers, make him sacrifice a Forest to let his Oak kill my Nightmare, but turn my Puca into another Nightmare, followed by Sengir Vampire. This leaves him at 8 life—and on my next turn, I draw a Swamp, and drop Patron of the Nezumi. This lets me attack with everything, and force him to die through both flying damage, and damage from his guys blocking.

Record: 1-4

All right, that's my first win! So far, my deck still has a lot of big, clunky creatures, but some of the flyers are quite decent—just a lot to play. I make my next cut of rares that aren't exactly synergistic in this deck and add in four Terrors and a Corrupt as removal.

Out: Empty the Catacombs, Endemic Plague, Last Laugh, Lethal Vapors, Nihilistic Glee
In: 4 Terror, 1 Corrupt

Game 6: QuantumFoam278 (White-Green-Blue Aggro)

I draw fifteen Swamps, Terror, Corrupt, and Midnight Banshee. QuantumFoam278 kills Midnight Banshee with Crib Swap, plays Mulldrifter, blinks it twice (drawing six extra cards), puts down Lightning Greaves, and starts pumping it with Immaculate Magistrate. I play face-down and then flip up Silent Specter right in time, killing Mulldrifter as a 3/3 just in time. He plays Windbrisk Heights, but I start knocking cards out of his hand two at a time. Finally, he plays Austere Command and wipes the board clear.

I drop Colfenor's Plans, removing Sengir Vampire, Hollow Specter, Toshiro Umezawa and more Swamps from the game. He plays three quick creatures, and then flips over Mirror Entity with the Heights, killing me in two attacks.

Record: 1-5

Game 7: ApparitionKG (Legendary Cards!)

I get Stronghold Assassin, Toshiro Umezawa, and Cemetery Puca, and he gets Captain Sisay. I attack with Stronghold Assassin, and then sacrifice it to make Cemetery Puca into Captain Sisay, which would allow me to get some of the legendary creatures from my deck! However, he uses Lightning Helix to kill my Puca / Sisay, and then drops Honden of the Infinite Rage. I drop Silent Specter onto the board and start taking out his hand, then follow it with Wound Reflection, so I can deal 8 damage a turn. The game is over shortly thereafter, despite a Kodama of the North Tree on ApparitionKG's side.

Record: 2-5

Time for another round of cuts. Silent Specter has been an absolute beating, and Stronghold Assassin has been a great source of cheap, reusable removal for the deck. I take out some of the Rares in favor of three Assassins and two Specters.

Out: Gravespawn Sovereign, Necroplasm, Colfenor's Plans, Polluted Bonds, Murderous Betrayal, Death Match, Midnight Ritual
In: 3 Stronghold Assassin, 2 Silent Specter


Game 8: Maestro11234 (Black-Green Husk)

I get an early start with Cemetery Puca, but it dies to Cruel Edict. On my next turn, I Persecute naming black, getting Sisters of the Stone Death, and two other black-green creatures. He drops Penumbra Bobcat and Nantuko Husk, and I get Silent Specter, Stronghold Assassin, and another Puca. My Specter knocks out several five-drops from his hand while he's at four lands, and a Repentant Vampire lets my air force outrun him before he can get into the game.

Record: 3-5

Game 9: Qizx (Mono-Black Control)

Qizx gets stuck at three mana, but puts up a fight with Last Gasp, Darkness, and Sudden Spoiling. However, no mana is as no mana does, so though I lose my Cemetery Puca, I do get Sengir Vampire, Hollow Specter and Stronghold Assassin, and follow them with Wound Reflection for a quick kill.

Record: 4-5

Now that I've got a little more of a curve, I can probably go back down to a more normal amount of lands. I do not want to lose my Nightmare to Chainer ever again, so Chainer comes out. Horobi doesn't have enough friends to help him target opposing creatures, so he goes too. In come two more Wound Reflections (which is like a one-sided Furnace of Rath for players), three Corrupts (works well with Wound Reflection!), a Midnight Banshee, and two Hollow Specters. It's an all-ghoulish feast!

Out: 4 Swamp, Gangrenous Goliath, Horobi, Death's Wail, Chainer, Dementia Master
In: 2 Wound Reflection, 3 Corrupt, 1 Midnight Banshee, 2 Hollow Specter


Game 10: Blackghost127 (Slivers)

Blackghost127 drops double Virulent Sliver, and I Terror one. He then drops Gemhide Sliver, Sinew Sliver, Sliver Overlord, another Sinew Sliver, and Essence Sliver, and kills me before I get to six mana to drop Midnight Banshee.

Record: 4-6

Game 11: ETERNAL291 (Blue-Black Discard)

ETERNAL291 gets Dimir Cutpurse, Blizzard Specter, and Abyssal Specter. I get Stronghold Assassin, Cemetery Puca, Midnight Banshee, and Silent Specter. My guys are bigger than his guys, so even though I draw three Terrors (all useless!), I am able to punch through with my team through his 2/2s and 2/3s.

Record: 5-6

Remember how I said that there are subtle shades of difference in similar-looking removal spells? Right now, my deck is strong at removing creatures... as long as they aren't black. Terror, therefore, is not the solution I'm looking for... but Last Gasp might be! I swap in Last Gasps for Terrors, so that I can kill black creatures (see the above game!). I also bring in two copies of Repentant Vampire for Sengir Vampire and Toshiro, since they also can help kill black creatures late-game.

Out: 4 Terror, 1 Toshiro Umezawa, 1 Sengir Vampire
In: 4 Last Gasp, 2 Repentant Vampire


Game 12: slao5 (Five-Color Control)

I drop Stronghold Assassin and Bane of the Living onto the board, and slao5's only plays are double Windswept Heath (getting Overgrown Tomb and Hallowed Fountain), a Steam Vents, Search for Tomorrow (for a Swamp), and Night of Souls' Betrayal (which kills my Assassin). Bane of the Living goes all the way for the win!

Record: 6-6

Game 13: herot (Coalition Victory)

Herot starts the game out hot with triple Kodama's Reach, against my morph (Silent Specter) and Stronghold Assassin. He trots out all five colors of mana, so my blind Persecute is against blue (he's fetched two Islands), revealing his hand of double Prismatic Omen, and Coalition Victory! I get the victory knocked out of his hand, and drop another Assassin to the board. He draws and plays Transguild Courier, but I have Last Gasp (Yay! I killed a black creature!) and clear the way to victory through attackers.

Record: 7-6

Game 14: youkissedlilly (Blue-Black Discard / Upkeep Punishment)

Youkissedlilly starts out the first turn with a Vivid Marsh, and follows it with Sleeper Agent and Vampiric Link (which would gain 5 life a turn if left unchecked!) I kill it with Last Gasp (again with killing the Black creatures), and drop Hollow Specter on the board. I then get hit with Stupor, losing Midnight Banshee and Repentant Vampire. This opens me up to play Persecute on my next turn, getting double Mind Rot out of YKL's hand, and seeing double Paradox Haze (which would have doubled the Sleeper Agent's upkeep damage to me each turn). I start playing every card I draw, since it seems like there's a lot of discard that will come my way—but Hollow Specter keeps youkissedlilly 's hand clear, and I get to see double Dream Salvage and a second Haze go to the bin. Eventually, I draw Silent Specter, and finish the game quickly.

Record: 8-6

Game 15: GHwhyman (Mono-Red Aggro)

GHwhyman's opening play is Chrome Mox and Slith Firewalker, and he follows it with Adamaro, First to Desire. I'm dead by turn four, as he hits me for 1 on turn one, 2 on turn two, 10 on turn three, and 9 on turn four (taking a spell to burn out my third-turn chump blocker).

Record: 8-7

If I were to continue onwards with this deck, I might want to focus more on creature-generation effects (Sengir Autocrat, maybe?) to combo better with Stronghold Assassin, and the deck would morph to an air-discard based assault with ground creatures and removal to lock up the ground, while my air force and Wound Reflection finish the opponent in short order. Would I have started a deck with Vampires, Stronghold Assassin, and Wound Reflection? Heck no—and I might never have gotten there if I didn't start there. But that's what's valuable about this exercise, and about theme decks. Magic is a game of ideas and possibilities, and if you expose yourself to enough ideas and possibilities, you might find that your deck building takes you in unexpected and exciting directions!

Next week: Not me! Just for a week!

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