Tricks of the Trade: Commander 2014: Black 2

We approach the realest of the shit. Shit so real you may not even be able to han­dle it. Parental Advisory is in full effect, and don’t come cry­ing to me if you suf­fer an over­dose of sheer awe­some and need to be rushed to an Ed Sheeran gig to be bored back down to nor­mal. It’s Magic in purest form, the most ass-kickingest of colour com­bi­na­tions – mono-black!1

I won’t lie to you guys, Sworn to Darkness was my Christmas. I love to play Commander. I love to play black. A whole deck of sweet mono‑B reprints and even sweet­er new cards to bulk out my pletho­ra of swamp-driven decks makes me happy in my spe­cial place (It’s just pos­si­ble that you may see hints of my per­son­al bias show­ing through in this arti­cle). As always, we have one Walkommander — damn it, I am mak­ing this hap­pen!2 — one reprint and one entire­ly new leg­end to share the bur­den of com­mand.

Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath

Duel: 4/10


Gosh dang it. Gosh dang it to heck. I real­ly love Ob Nixilis. In his (chrono­log­i­cal­ly later, as he was a ‘walk­er before some­how los­ing his spark and get­ting all horny3) demon­ic form he heads up my mono-black shit­storm of mal­ice and death trig­gers, doing a fine job of mak­ing every­one cry. With such a solid – yet com­plete­ly under­rat­ed – appear­ance under his belt I was real­ly hop­ing that the p‑dub ver­sion of my favourite leg­end was going to be some­thing spe­cial, but frankly he’s a bit of a let­down.

Make no mis­take, his ulti­mate is amaz­ing; who doesn’t want a Disciple of Bolas every turn? It’s get­ting him there that’s the issue. Pinging each oppo­nent for one life a turn is some seri­ous­ly weak game in Commander, and that’s before you remem­ber that this is a for­mat where Gary can do seri­ous dam­age for the same imme­di­ate mana investi­ture. The trusty mer­chant is even includ­ed in the deck, as if to flip the bird at Ob Nixilis and his poor attempts to copy­cat. There’s small con­so­la­tion in the fact that his +2 abil­i­ty scales to the num­ber of oppo­nents, but rarely is it going to have any real impact, and due to his frus­trat­ing­ly low start­ing loy­al­ty you’ll need to fire off his abil­i­ty three times before Ob reach­es his ulti­mate. In duel it’s use­less, net­ting pre­cise­ly one life per turn, and in mul­ti­play­er it’s…equally use­less, net­ting such tiny amounts of life drain that it isn’t worth the both­er unless you’re run­ning the heinous Sanguine Bond/Exquisite Blood infi­nite combo, in which case you can go fuck your­self you awful, awful human being.

His ‑2 abil­i­ty isn’t too bad, despite the fact it only pro­duces a vanil­la crea­ture – at least it gives you some­thing worth sac­ri­fic­ing, and in a duel matchup a fly­ing 5/5 is actu­al­ly a fair­ly respectable threat.4

Not so much when fac­ing down an entire table, though. I get the feel­ing the demon is only here to be offered up as value for the Disciple or Gisa.

As pre­vi­ous­ly dis­cussed the ulti­mate is fan­tas­tic, but most­ly unfea­si­ble. If you can get Ob’s loy­al­ty up high enough to crank it out, you’re prob­a­bly win­ning the game any­way and don’t need more cards and life. In a Superfriends/Doubling Season deck I can see it being a pow­er­house, but in the deck as-is it’s a pipe dream.

Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief

Duel: 3/10 (untest­ed)

Multiplayer: 4/10 (untest­ed)

This is, I think, the only leg­end from Commander 2014 that I haven’t got­ten around to play­ing with or against. She just doesn’t excite me. Yeah, she can poten­tial­ly do some seri­ous dam­age, but unless you’re aim­ing for a quick vic­to­ry through Commander Damage she just isn’t that use­ful. I can see her going gang­busters in a Voltron build or even a con­trol deck, but here she just hangs around like a bad smell. The deck is most­ly built around draw­ing cards and sac­ri­fic­ing for prof­it, and Drana brings noth­ing to the table in either of those areas. She can func­tion as – extreme­ly expen­sive – spot removal in a pinch, but the deck is already home to Nekrataal, Shriekmaw, Reaper from the Abyss and Overseer of the Damned for all your creature-based removal needs, and that’s with­out even men­tion­ing the suite of sorcery/instant removal spells.

Drana is actu­al­ly one of the few C14 leg­ends that I’m not even happy run­ning as one of my 99 in the deck.  Black just has so many bet­ter ways to mur­der dudes and deal dam­age that are either cheap­er or more effec­tive that I real­ly don’t see a home for her.

Ghoulcaller Gisa

Duel: 6/10

Multiplayer: 7/10

Like a moth­er­fuck­ing boss.

Seriously, this lady is amaz­ing. A sac out­let, a force mul­ti­pli­er,5 a respectable body and two very rel­e­vant crea­ture types all bun­dled up into a joy­ful lit­tle box and tied with a rib­bon made of entrails. Lose a crea­ture, gain a bunch of crea­tures.  Welcome to Chump Block City, pop­u­la­tion I‑can-do-this-all-damn-day.

While Sworn to Darkness isn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly opti­mised to turn Gisa’s wee­nies into a fear­some fight­ing force,6 it cer­tain­ly excels in cre­at­ing a Romero-style horde of mind­less brain munch­ers to throw at oppo­nents. It’s prob­a­bly the most aggres­sive way to play the deck even if the tokens them­selves are minor threats, as before too long it’s sim­plic­i­ty itself to have an army of the lit­tle rot­ting bug­gers. Granted the lines of play are fair­ly lin­ear – play a dude, sac the dude, ZOMBIE PARTY! – but it doesn’t mat­ter so much when the chips are down; cun­ning and strat­e­gy are all very well, but supe­ri­or num­bers will carry the day.

The inter­play between cards known as syn­er­gy can be quite impres­sive here — Flesh Carver stands out in par­tic­u­lar as a way to make a lot of tokens very quick­ly (sac wee­nie tokens to the Carver, sac the Carver to Gisa, sac the result­ing token to Gisa also, rejoice in an abun­dance of zom­bies) while trig­ger­ing Butcher of Malakir’s sym­met­ri­cal sac­ri­fice, which in turn trig­gers Reaper from the Abyss — and frankly Gisa feels like the most nat­ur­al fit for the lead­er­ship posi­tion. Everything falls into place in ways it doesn’t for Ob or Drana, and the Mono‑B Monster can real­ly start to show every­one why black is so very pow­er­ful.

That’s all for today chil­dren — join me next time for the artifact-based Red offer­ing, Built From Scratch!

  1. Realness of shit grad­ed in lab­o­ra­to­ry con­di­tions by the FDA. Personal pref­er­ences may vary. Please con­sult your physi­cian if you find your­self hold­ing other colours in high­er esteem than black. []
  2. Note to self – no, you aren’t. []
  3. I’m here all week, folks. Try the veal. []
  4. Albeit one that’s going to draw quite a lot of hate and prob­a­bly shuf­fle off the mor­tal coil before achiev­ing too much, but that’s alright – we can always make anoth­er one! []
  5. Sac a 2/2 zom­bie to Gisa, get a pair of 2/2 zom­bies in return. Zombie amoe­ba! []
  6. A small con­ces­sion is made with Bad Moon and Caged Sun, but the lack of Zombie-specific Lords is annoy­ing. []

Tom Dawson

About Tom Dawson

Tom Dawson is, in no particular order; a two-time Olympic bronze medallist (synchronised swimming), ancestrally Atlantean, a compulsive liar, the Green Lantern of space sector 2814 and the inventor of the cordless drill. His fondest wish is that someday he’ll get paid for writing stuff like this.

2 thoughts on “Tricks of the Trade: Commander 2014: Black

  • Wally D.

    Great review! Although I do have to say I will whole heart­ed­ly dis­agree with your take on Drana. Once Crypt Ghast is on board with mana dou­bling, oppo­nents do not want her on the table. I high­ly encour­age you and Drana go out for din­ner. At least a cup of cof­fee or some­thin’ and find out what she has to offer. :) fun read sir!

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