Dominaria United Set Review - Black
(Sheoldred, the Apocalypse | Chris Rahn)
White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Artifacts & Lands | Allied Colors and Shards | Enemy Colors and Wedges
Rise of the Dark Realms
Good evening. My name is Michael Celani, and I write How They Brew It, which means I always fairly evaluate cards based on their objective strength instead of impulsively trying to do something stupid with them. Therefore, my opinions are correct, which means I get to review cards again!
Dominaria United is the long-awaited Universes Beyond crossover between Magic: the Gathering and United Airlines. Whether it be horrifying, twisted flying metal monstrosities or decrepit, ugly nightmares shambling through tight, dark corridors, a collaboration with United means all sorts of evil sorcery is guaranteed to come out of the woodwork. Let's get started reviewing the black cards!
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is goodstuff: she's cheap, has a titanic body, and tossing her onto the battlefield is tantamount to sniping your opponents for ten or more. You're also gaining tons of life at the same time, further widening the gulf between you and your opponents, and all of this is predicated on players doing something they want to do anyway: drawing cards. It's absurd how universally useful Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is; it's not quite "black Smothering Tithe," but it's close, and that's terrifying.
Despite that, this is one of the few Praetors that won't have much of a home in the command zone. It doesn't bode well for her that there are other legendary creatures we can directly compare her against. Without white, she's worse as a lifegain commander than Queza, Augur of Agonies, since there's fewer payoffs. Without red, she's worse as a wheel commander than Nekusar, the Mindrazer because there's simply fewer wheels for her to take advantage of. Both of these options having not one, but two additional colors to play with makes them way more attractive as the leader of a deck, leaving Sheoldred a denizen of the ninety-nine.
Perhaps she'll end up carving out a niche as a super-specific Howling Mine group slug deck, effectively subsuming Seizan, Perverter of Truth. In fact, the average Seizan deck looks pretty good helmed by Sheoldred:
But other than that, I think Sheoldred is lacking the flare she should have as a Praetor. She's very Urabrask the Hidden, and I mean that in a bad way, in an "it's as boring to read as Jane Eyre" sort of way. Yes, the Apocalypse: two Underworld Dreams stacked on top of each other. Snore!
Braids, Arisen Nightmare
Braids, Arisen Nightmare is a conspicuous Commander plant, and she's insane value for three mana. Admittedly, your opponents are given more agency with this iteration than the original, so this Braids is less Braids and more an anti-Baba Lysaga, Night Witch. I'm looking at her like three Phyrexian Arenas stapled together, because using her to take out actual threats will be inconsistent at best.
If you're looking to absolutely maximize card draw, the abundance of Treasure and random 1/1 tokens neuters choosing to sacrifice an artifact or creature, though you can always try one of them if you think you can snipe a few lesser threats. There's no way you're fielding enough planeswalkers to make that choice consistent, and even if you could, they have to survive until your next turn for you to get a shot at getting value out of them. That leaves enchantments and lands, and since sacrificing your own lands (while admittedly ballsy) makes it impossible to cast the grip of cards you're cultivating, we're left with the former.
Braids is pretty unique as a sacrifice outlet for enchantments and luckily, there's no shortage of enchantments that black wouldn't mind sacrificing, with Demonic Pact, Treacherous Blessing, and Chime of Night chief among them. I'd build a deck with a core of enchantments and then try to assemble a win from sheer value. Try getting a completely full grip of cards and then pitching all of them to Skirge Familiar to power an incredibly large Torment of Hailfire. You can even add in some Constellation cards, like Doomwake Giant and Thoughtrender Lamia, for a little extra oomph.
That's just one way you can take the new Braids, though. You could also use her as just a generic sac outlet for tokens and maybe catch your opponents in a tough spot every once in a while. Even if you're drawing only one additional card a turn, that's still a great rate for only three mana. If you don't feel like offering your whole deck up to the gods on a platter to draw four cards a turn, Braids might still have something for you, and I'm excited to see if someone's actually going to build the planeswalker version. If you are, congratulations: you passed the test and I'll see you at How They Brew It next week.
Defiler of Flesh
Defiler of Flesh is positioned uniquely badly amongst the members of its cycle because K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth already exists and does the job better for the same price. I can't imagine a deck that would want both of them, so Defiler of Flesh will end up relegated to the bargain bin.
Drag to the Bottom
It's a good thing Drag to the Bottom costs two black pips, or someone might have made the mistake of putting it in a deck that wants to have many different types of lands.
If it targeted only your opponents' creatures, that would be one thing, but this truly has no advantage over any other board wipe either in black or out of it. You're better off playing Toxic Deluge, Damnation, or even Mutilate over this, because at least these aren't hard-capped to -6/-6.
I also have a pet peeve with the fact that this card's name is distressingly similar to Drag to the Underworld, which is also mono-black removal. Oh, well.
These Figures of Destiny always seemed too slow for Commander. If you go with the mana values that Evolved Sleeper gives you, it's secretly a 3/3 creature with deathtouch for four, which is actually pretty bad for a rare. I like this one's ability to generate an endless supply of deathtouch counters that you can redistribute with Nesting Grounds, though. That relatively cheap pump and card draw ability is like adding heated seats to your new car, but it's not worth cutting a real draw spell for.
I think this only makes the cut if you're doing counter shenanigans, are deep in on Clerics, or are consistently finding ways to make tons of black mana but not the cards you cast with it all.
This is a pretty straightforward Cleric lord that can also cheat your Archfiend of Despair, your Sheoldred, Whispering One, or your Yargle, Glutton of Urborg out of your deck at the low cost of one poor soul.
It's a no-brainer to slot this into your deck if it's Party-themed, it's helmed by Orah, Skyclave Hierophant, or it has any number of Shadowborn Apostles. Hell, if the commander just happens to be a Cleric, like if you're running a bog-standard Firja, Judge of Valor reanimator deck, you can still get value out of that activated ability. It's not even limited to sorcery speed: sacrifice a Cleric at instant speed to fetch out Massacre Wurm and take down the token player that has an Overrun on the stack. If your deck wants this card, it really wants this card; if your deck doesn't want this card, it really doesn't want this card.
Stronghold Arena would be a fine mono-black card draw engine, except that they added a completely useless Kicker to this card that doesn't matter other than the fact that it makes your cheap Dark Confidant replacement Abzan because Wizards of the Coast hates you.
If you hit all three opponents, sure, you draw three cards (and likely lose a bunch of life), but that requires a lot of things to go right at once, and it's not really fair to judge this card on the extreme best cast scenario. Most strategies that mono-black players run aren't incredibly aggressive in combat unless they're in a position to win the game outright, making this card too little, too early. The fact that Stronghold Arena also requires you to be in white and green brings it to an entirely separate level of useless. Against those colors, it's completely outclassed; you might as well play Toski, Bearer of Secrets. That draws you a card per hit instead of per player, and it's an indestructible creature instead of an easily removed enchantment.
The Cruelty of Gix
Basically, The Cruelty of Gix is a Grim Tutor that costs two more, but for your investment, you get a delayed reanimate effect. People play Elspeth Conquers Death for removal plus a reanimate, so searching your library for a card seems like a reasonable tradeoff at this price point. Sure, five mana is steep, but that's about the going rate for modern bring-out-your-dead spells anyway, so it's really up to you if you want to use this as a tutor first or not.
Oh, and like a steamy romance novel, you're almost always better off skipping that first chapter. There's no action there compared to the later parts, and you definitely don't want to give your opponents more time to catch you with your pants down by either blowing up the Saga or exiling your graveyard.
The Raven Man
The Raven Man finally gets his own card, and it's for the birds.
A few 1/1 flying tokens that can't even chump an opponent's commander is simply not a payoff worthy of the command zone slot, and that's not even mentioning that The Raven Man is competing with perhaps the best discard commander ever in Tinybones, Trinket Thief. Birdbrain here is also gifted with one toughness, meaning he's destined to get pinged over and over if you do play him out.
His only advantage is his activated ability, which could genuinely be useful, but it's expensive, only usable at sorcery speed, and since it taps, you have to jump through hoops to get more than one use out of it a turn. You could possibly build a deck around suiting him up with effects like Thousand-Year Elixir and making tons of black mana, but I don't know why you wouldn't just win via Torment of Hailfire or something actually good at that point.
He's destined for the ninety-nine of discard decks, maybe, and that's it. He deserved better.
Stay with me on this one: Tyrannical Pitlord is the Magic equivalent of running Java in the browser. If you want to beef up a creature, you're almost certainly going to try protecting them by giving them keywords like indestructible and hexproof, and all the choose-a-creature ability does is open up a side-channel that makes it easier to get at them. All this for what, +3/+3 and flying, a keyword that's probably superseded by some form of unblockable in an aggressive deck anyway? God forbid your opponent has a Roon of the Hidden Realm on the board; choosing a creature is not optional.
Of course, you could play Tyrannical Pitlord into an empty board, but then all you have is a turbo-Colossal Dreadmaw that's outclassed by Doom Whisperer.
Uncommons & Commons
Nobody seemed to like Vent Sentinel, but Blight Pile has the advantage of hitting everyone and potentially slotting into Doran, the Siege Tower. On the other hand, black has the fewest creatures with defender out of all five, including red, which was frankly surprising to me. This effect really needs to be in white so it can fit into Arcades, the Strategist.
Like Fatal Push, Cut Down suffers in Commander from the fact that most threats are just bigger than what it's asking for. The vast majority of popular commanders aren't even vulnerable to Cut Down, though it notably hits Prosper, Tome-Bound, so there's that. Stick to the two-mana removal spells, like Infernal Grasp or Go for the Throat; they'll never be as dead as Cut Down can be.
This can easily end up as a four-mana 7/7 in a reanimator deck, which is a statline that upsets Hearthstone players specifically. Outside that, the only use I could think of for this is after you pitch Draco in your Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow deck. That pile has no shortage of ways to make things unblockable, and an unstoppable 16/16 Leech barrelling towards me would be so distressing that even reading current monkeypox statistics would calm me down.
Shadow Prophecy is better than Read the Bones.
I'm serious. Assuming you have three land types, you get to look at the top three cards of your library, take two of them, and then the last one goes not to the bottom of your library, but into your graveyard. Grab two cards and put a card with Flashback into the 'yard. Find your Reanimate and your Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Someone exile your graveyard and then cast Living Death? Screw it, just put all the creatures into your 'yard; it's up to two. Even if you have only two land types, it's still an above-rate instant-speed Divination, and if you have more than three, you're laughing.
This is by far the best black common in the set and you should stock up on these if you get the chance.
My lord, what a disappointing showing this time around! Very few commons and uncommons worth talking about, and the rares mostly seem like bulk. There's maybe three or so cards I'm interested in here, tops, for mono-black. Just bite the bullet and buy your Sheoldred, the Apocalypse as a single instead of cracking packs for it; trust me, your wallet will be much happier.
What cards in Dominaria United are you looking forward to playing with? Let me know in the comments below, and stay tuned for the rest of our set coverage this week here on Commander's Herald and over at EDHREC!