Magic: The Gathering – Zendikar Rising’s Black Cards Can Be Great Leaders AND Followers

Magic: The Gathering‘s newest expansion set is Zendikar Rising, and it features classic returning mechanics right alongside some exciting new ones. This makes for some fun games of booster draft, and the black cards have strong synergy with each other and the other colors, allies and enemies alike.

In this set, the pool of black cards offers a wide variety of staple black effects, ranging from hand control to creature removal spells to paying life and sacrifice-based cards. Often, this color can augment whatever the other colors are doing in a Limited deck, but sometimes, the black cards might take the lead.

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Black Cards in Zendikar Rising Limited

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In this set, the black cards are surprisingly humble, often deferring to the other four colors’ strategies and synergizing with them rather than creating their own. Still, the black cards take the lead when it comes to black mana’s key strengths, such as hand control, reanimation and creature removal. In black’s card pool, effective removal such as Deadly Alliance, Feed the Swarm, Inscription of Ruin and Hagra Mauling can push a draft player into black if they want to take down strong creatures their opponents control, then return fire with efficient beaters to match.

Additionally, black mana can enable a graveyard-based deck with cards like Malakir Rebirth, Thwart the Grave, Skyclave Shade and Drana, the Last Bloodchief. Black mana is also good at hand control with the likes of Pelakka Predation and Mind Drain, but Limited decks aren’t typically built around hand control or tutoring. They’re incidental effects.

Meanwhile, the bulk of Zendikar Rising‘s black cards are useful for completing other archetypes, and each of the other four colors can benefit greatly from black’s vicious cards. When combined with its ally red, the result is the black/red aggro party deck, making use of black’s lean and aggressive cards. Many of black’s cheaper creatures have high power, evasion and abilities such as flying or lifelink, meaning they can power up an aggro decks in many ways at once, including lifegain to get the edge in damage races.

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Nighthawk Scavenger has flying, lifelink and deathtouch, making it a terrifying and evasive attacker, while Malakir Bloodpriest is a 2/1 for 1B that can drain life from the opponent, then start attacking (especially if boosted with Equipment or combat tricks). Expedition Skulker is a 2/2 for 1B that gets deathtouch if a friendly Rogue is controlled, and Mind Carver can give a creature +1/+0 (or +3/+0 if an opponent’s graveryard has 8+ cards in it). Black has Clerics, Rogues and Warriors alike for a party-oriented black/red deck, to complement red’s Warriors and Wizards.

Black can also go on the offensive alongside blue, of all things, in the blue/black Rogues deck. This is also aggressive and tricky like black/red, but focuses more on Rogues (and maybe a few Wizards) and puts more emphasis on milling and having many cards in the opponent’s graveyard. Many of these black creatures either cause mill or get stronger from opponents getting milled, such as Nimana Skydancer, Nimana Skitter-Sneak and Nighthawk Scavenger. These cards work best in Rogues, but they’re passable in black/red Party aggro, too.

With green mana, black is all about +1/+1 counters and sacrifice, giving up its weakest creatures to pump the rest and make game-smashing threats. Hagra Constrictor rewards the player for using +1/+1 counters on creatures, and Guul Draz Mucklord grants a +1/+1 counter on a friendly creature when it dies either through combat or sacrifice. Oblivion’s Hunger, a cheap black combat trick, can make a creature indestructible, and cantrip if that that creature has a +1/+1 counter on it.

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Combined with white, black is all about Clerics, and it’s the second-best Cleric color behind white. A white/black Cleric deck is slower than the red/white Warrior aggro deck, but its many Clerics can bolster each other considerably, then finally attack with a tightly-knit gang of touch Clerics. Drana is a great start in the mythic rare slot, and there’s also Marauding Blight-Priest (which works well with white’s lifegain), Malakir Blood-Priest (splashing in Rogues or Warriors helps it even more) and Nullpriest of Oblivion.

Black Cards in Other Formats

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A handful of Zendikar Rising‘s black cards have found their place in Standard decks, usually the Dimir-colored ones. Standard is home to a Rogues deck that uses blue and black cards from Core Sets, Throne of Eldraine and Zendikar Rising alike, and it’s the perfect place for Nighthawk Scavenger. There is also a Dimir control deck that can use Hagra MauTjheng and Bloodchief’s Thirst as staple removal spells, alongside counterspells and hand control.

The Rakdos midrange deck can use Magra Mauling, Agadeem’s Awakening and Bloodchief’s Thirst as powerhouse noncreature spells. Lastly, black mana offers both Taborax and Drana as mono-colored Commander cards for semi-casual decks, often as the commander itself. Taborax demands a more specific build, since its true power awakens when friendly Clerics die in particular. Fortunately, plenty of black Clerics exist in the game’s overall card pool.

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