Avacyn Restored MTG Set Review – Black by Grant Hislop

UB Mystical Teachings – A Pauper Video Article by Grant Hislop


Welcome back.

Previously, I’ve covered what I think of the White and Blue cards of the set. Logical progression being what it is, it’s now apparently time to look at the Black cards. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the cards we’ve seen so far, hopefully Black can keep the pace.

Another plea; If you’d like to discuss my views on any cards, please, use the comments section, or the Facebook bit at the bottom. Hopefully that will get a bit more discussion going, as everyone can see it.

Again, the majority of my opinions pertain to Standard playability and draft, and not much else. If I miss an obvious eternal staple, it’s because I don’t think about those formats all that much. Please don’t hold my ignorance of these formats against me too much.


Black Avacyn Restored Cards

Without further preamble:-

Appetite for Brains

I don’t really like this card while Despise is legal. I don’t think that people are playing much in the way of instants and sorceries that cost more than 4 anyway, and it seems like Despise is better, as it can take Geist of Saint Traft and friends, whereas Appetite for Brains would leave him in hand. Even for stripping Planeswalkers and other troublesome creatures such as Thrun, the Last Troll and Primeval Titan, Despise would do the same job.

It’s likely that as the format evolves, the premier discard spell will shift around, ala Duress, Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize jumping around while Modern was happening with regularity, and I’m sure that this card is whetting peoples appetites to an extent, but I’m not sold that it’s any better than any of the multitude of alternatives we have available.

I think that limited wise, we’re looking at a 23rd card. There’s enough in the way of big to gigantic monsters that it’s not totally out of the realms of playability, but use your brains guys, this isn’t a great card, by any stretch of the imagination.

Barter in Blood

I’ve never played with this card before, outside of 100 card decks, but it looks pretty awesome to me. We’re looking at a format with Black Sun’s Zenith, which is probably going to remain the de-facto wrath effect for Black decks for now, but I think it’s closer than it looks. While Lingering Souls makes this look quite weak, I feel like the Primeval Titan decks are quite likely to push Lingering Souls based strategies out of the format in the short-term, so possibly considering a split, or even a potential switch is worth consideration.

It’s a tricky situation to get into with cards like this in limited. Obviously, you can’t afford to not play your own creatures, as you’d die, and getting a little extra value out of this card isn’t worth the blood, sweat and tears to set up, and you’re unlikely to be able to truly ranch your opponent, as they’re generally going to have access to a utility creature or two, but as you can hopefully develop your board into a position where you can get the most of this, you’re going to be at the advantage.

Blood Artist

A variant of Suture Priest, Essence Warden and co isn’t really too likely to be what many decks have been seeking. He’ll potentially see play in some fringe combo decks, presumably involving Gravecrawler and Grimgrin, Corpse Born, but I don’t think we’re looking at anything particularly revolutionary.

Limited wise, it’s a baby Falkenrath Noble, and he was an easy first pick. This doesn’t have anywhere close to the body that the Noble had, but it was frequent to just play him and sit behind him anyway. I think this is a pretty annoying card, that’ll break open a lot of stalled boards. Plus, the art is fantastic.

Bloodflow Connoisseur

I’m something of a connoisseur myself. I’ve got an appetite for good cards, and good, this ain’t.
I can’t be bothered checking if Bloodthrone Vampire is still legal or not. No existing deck really wants this effect, and that’s what we’re looking at. The fact that it’s counters rather than til EOT is almost completely irrelevant.

Limited wise, at least we’re looking at something that blanks your opponents removal spells, so it’ll probably see play in most black decks. It is pretty expensive for what it does though.

Bone Splinters

Mortarpod serves as effectively a repeatable version of this, so while it plays pretty nice with Undying and Morbid, the ability to avoid creatures, and go for the dome probably means that this won’t see much in the way of standard play until rotation, upon which time we can consider it again.

Limited wise, it’s always going to be played. There are enough utility creatures that it’s worth the inherent card disadvantage to run this, and it’s going to be extra nutty in decks that want to abuse the multitude of Dying based triggers.

Butcher Ghoul

Bet’cher this doesn’t see any constructed play. This isn’t the two-drop that the zombie deck has been looking for, and it’s a million miles away from being playable in any other deck. Highborn Ghoul isn’t particularly exciting, but I’d far rather run that than Butcher Ghoul any day of the week.

In limited, all we’re looking at is something that might stall for a turn or two. Aggro decks are going to be looking for more up-front, and control decks are going to be wanting more than this.

Corpse Traders

It’s an interesting enough ability to consider, but while Entomber Exarch is around, I don’t think the repeatability of Corpse Traders is worth the additional mana investment. I don’t expect this to be a tradable uncommon, in the vein of Lingering Souls and the Captain cycle from Dark Ascension, for example.

In limited, it’s always difficult to not run your Hill Giants, and this one comes with a decent enough ability. Black has plenty of Dies triggers, as well as the lion’s share of undying, which will probably make this card excellent. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being one of the best black uncommons for draft.

Crypt Creeper

I get that this is a reprint, and I also get why. Graveyard hate has experienced power creep as well as creatures, and this doesn’t really measure up to the cards that people are already using. The Zombie decks might want one or two as a pro-active sideboard card to bring in against reanimator style strategies, but for the most part, I don’t think there’s much to discuss here.

Again, in limited, it’s hard to not include Grizzly Bears, and for the most part, the loss of a point of toughness isn’t that relevant. You’ll almost always include the Creeper, as he’s a card that will seldom have no impact on the board.

Dark Imposter

I think that while we can all agree this serves no constructed purpose, it’s going to be an absolute house in limited. You’ll take over any game where he’s left alone, and he’ll pick up more and more abilities as the games progress. Again, Grey Ogres aren’t the easiest cards to cut from 40-card land, and this one has such a huge upside that his inclusion is going to be no imposition whatsoever. It’s not overpowered, in that it’ll never be activated more than once a turn, so your opponent will have plenty of time to find an answer, but this is definitely one of the better limited rares in the set.

Death Wind

Obviously, there are better cards for constructed for us to use, but it’s always going to make the cut in limited. I’ve caught wind of the fact that there’s not that much removal in this set in general, so we have to make do with what we’ve got. I like that it’s an instant, rather than a sorcery, as we can activate it partially, and mess up our opponent’s combat maths, which is never a bad thing.

Demonic Rising

I feel something rising, but it’s not Demons. Yup, it’s bile. This is awful. Does nothing, and makes you jump through hoops to get a potentially recurring 5/5. I’d far rather pay 1 more, and get a Grave Titan, or a Consecrated Sphinx.

In 40-card land, it makes a reasonable team with Blood Artist, Bloodflow Connoisseur and friends in the type of deck that wants to sacrifice its own creatures, but it seems a little fragile. There’s a lot of bounce in the format, for example, and we really don’t want to get blown out by relying on this card. Probably best left alone.

Demonic Taskmaster

I see this occupying a space similar to Vampire Nighthawk in control decks, in that it’s an undercosted, evasive creature that can profitably interact with most commonly seen creatures. If he’s your only guy, he’s got no downside. It’s a shame that the power and toughness weren’t reversed, as something this cheap that could live through an Insectile Aberration attack would have been a master-stroke.

This is the opposite of most of the cards we’ve seen so far, in that it’s considerably better in constructed than it is in limited. Outside of the most ‘dying matters’ decks, it’s going to be too tough to get an upside on this that’s worth jumping through the hoops that our Demonic Taskmaster expects of us.

Demonlord of Ashmouth

Plays really nicely with cards like Gravecrawler in the zombie decks, and is just so huge, he’s going to be hard to deal with. It’s only going to see play in the creature heavy decks, obviously, so he’s not going to be lording it over standard, but he’s a solid enough role-player that he’s bound to see play.

I can’t imagine ever passing this in draft, if I’m lucky enough to open one. It’s so cheap, and it’s easy enough to justify going all-in on such a house of a card. His draw-back is almost negligible, as you’re sure to have a bunch of mediocre curve-fillers that he can munch on, and closes the game fast enough to dodge most of the other stupid flying monsters.

Descent into Madness

Outside of the synergies with something like Grave Titan, it just seems a bit steep, and demands that you jump through a lot of hoops to break the symmetry of this card. Obviously, you’re going to build your deck to minimise its effect on you, and your opponent will go mad trying to interact with it, but it just seems like it’s not worth the effort it demands. If you play a deck with this in it in a tournament, pretty much the only descent you’ll be looking at is your name slipping down towards the bottom of the standings.

Dread Slaver

He’s really difficult to interact with properly in 40-card land, and you’ll always dread having to block him if you’re not absolutely certain you’re going to kill him. He’s another balanced rare that’s not over-powering to see across the table, even if his effect is extremely powerful. I can’t imagine he’s going to be passed all that often.

Driver of the Dead

Seems tailor made for the Birthing Pod decks that are using Black, and could certainly see inclusion in the 4c versions. He offers a lot of value, both in returning something like a Birds of Paradise or a Strangleroot Geist. It’s obviously not as versatile as a more traditional Gravedigger, but it’s certainly a good dynamic to add to the hugely underrated Birthing Pod strategy.

How good he is in limited will vary from deck to deck. There are a lot of value 2 CMC cards in this set, so it’s not going to be too difficult to use his death trigger to keep yourself in the driver’s seat.

Essence Harvest

Does literally nothing on an empty board, so we shouldn’t be playing this in constructed. Limited wise, you’re going to have to work pretty hard to harvest the benefits of running such a card. It’s kind of like a Lava Axe, which is fine, but requires a bit more set up. It’s fine as a 23rd card, but I’m not going to be in any hurry to pick these up.

Evernight Shade

There’s no shades of grey about this guy in constructed. There are better options, and lots of them. Most decks aren’t looking for a mana-sink, and 4-mana 1/1’s have never set the world on fire.

I don’t particularly want to run a shade outside of a mono-coloured deck, and I don’t think this one will be any different. He’s fine in mono-coloured decks, but not particularly exciting. Again, most decks aren’t really looking for a mana-sink, but at least he’ll rip open a stalled board, and the undying makes it very difficult to profitably deal with him.

Exquisite Blood

It doesn’t do anything on its own, and the uses you can get are marginal at best. It’s best left in 100-card land, where people brew can brew exquisite masterpieces centred on this, Sanguine Bond, Feast of Blood and all the other toilety cards that have no business near a regular deck.


We all know that there are better cards that we can use than this, so I shouldn’t need to flesh out much of an argument about how bad this is for constructed. Most of the creatures that people will be playing in limited won’t be killed by this, and the Zombie creature type isn’t particularly relevant, so it seems unlikely to see much play at all.

Gloom Surgeon

It’s not all doom and gloom for Black though, as this card seems pretty sweet. He’s impossible to interact with favourably without expending at least a card. It’s probably not as good as Highborn Ghoul in Zombies, but it’s definitely an interesting card.  The drawback is obviously  far steeper in limited, but in the more aggressive black decks, it’ll be very good. There are going to be far fewer ways to interact with him in limited though. I’d like to get some equipment on this guy, and swing with him all day long.

Grave Exchange

Am I going to be exchanging my other removal spells for this anytime soon? Probably not. There’s only one card with the word ‘Grave’ in it that I’m interested in playing with at the moment, and that’s Big Daddy Graves.

It seems a bit steep for a Cruel Edict stapled onto a Raise Dead to see much play in 40 card land. I could see playing this after a Barter in Blood to really spoil my opponents day though, so it’s not totally unplayable.


I’ve never been much of a fan of the Frites deck. I like the package, and the engine is obviously powerful, I just didn’t rate the reanimation targets. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Wurmcoil Engine or Inferno Titan per se, but you were warping your deck around something that was really, quite easy to deal with. At least if they deal with your Griselbrand, you’ll get 7 cards out of the exchange. Rob Wagner wrote an excellent article about Griselbrand recently, and I’m inclined to agree with what he says for the most part.

He’s too expensive to cast, so he’ll only ever really be getting cheated into play, which isn’t an awful place to be, and he’s certainly on the cusp of being worth going to the trouble to do so. It seems very difficult to envisage a game where you’re allowed to untap with him being lost.

Harvester of Souls

Worst flavour text in the set. Should definitely be ‘He’s got souls, but he’s not a soldier’. It’s a shame about the non-token stipulation, as it seems like he’d see a bit of play otherwise. I can’t see ever running this while I’m allowed to play with Consecrated Sphinx.

He’s an absolute house in limited. A 5/5 deathtoucher that will draw you a tonne of cards is never going to be the worst idea, and he’s big enough that your opponent can’t just ignore him. Excellent rare.

Homicidal Seclusion

Worst. Equipment. Ever. This will spend its standard tenure in seclusion in my unplayables box. Can’t see it making much of a splash in limited either. It’s expensive, and leaves you really open to losing to removal spells if you’re leaning on it too hard.

Human Frailty

Human is definitely a relevant creature type to care about. I think the only thing that will hold this back is that Tragic Slip kills pretty much every human that you care about, for the same cost, with additional value against more decks. It’s maybe a 1-2 of in a sideboard, but I don’t think it’s worth looking at too hard.

In 40-card formats, I think it’ll be a main-deck worthy card. Black’s always loaded with conditional removal that varies from awful to good, and this is closer to the ‘good’ end of the spectrum. A significant proportion of the sets creature type is Human, and while most of them  aren’t worth interacting with, having the ability to do so is huge, and for such a minimal mana investment, I think it’s well worth being in the starting 40.

Hunted Ghoul

For all the reasons discussed above, Hunted Ghoul is the reverse. He’s going to be hunting for a home in standard, and any other constructed format you can possibly envisage for a long time to come.

In limited land, I’m not ashamed to say I’ve played Sanctuary Cat, and while this is worse than that cat, I’d be surprised if I never end up having to play with him in the coming months.

Killing Wave

Seems like if a black aggro deck actually wants a wrath effect, they’ll just play Black Sun’s Zenith instead, due to favourable interactions with undying creatures. It’s not what control decks want against aggro decks at all, so it seems difficult to envisage a time when this will be doing the required killing of creatures.

Seems more akin to Browbeat than Wrath of God, and we should know by now; Giving our opponents choices to make seldom works out well in the long run.

Maalfeld Twins

Seems doomed to comparisons to Wurmcoil Engine, where it doesn’t measure up favourably.

Limited wise, we’re looking at a house. It’s 8 power across 3 bodies, which is a sweet deal however you look at it, and while the creature type isn’t especially relevant, people love their Zombies.

Marrow Bats

I’ve put this in a constructed deck that I’m going to play, but Marrow Bats will be gone when the morning comes. One toughness is awful in standard, but in 40-card land, we’re looking at a powerful body. I think he’s a bit on the expensive side, as you can’t realistically afford to regenerate him more than twice. He’ll do a reasonable impression of The Abyss though, and that’s a pretty good place to be.

Mental Agony

I’m in agony trying to work out why they’ve printed this instead of Mind Rot. Mind Rot wouldn’t even be that good. Seems to me like there’s a lot of bad versions of core-set style cards in this set.

It’s not embarrassing to run this in limited. It seems like there’s a lot of big guys, and that the format will be quite slow, and Mind Agony is fine as a way for the aggro decks to pre-emptively deal with them as well as benefitting from the loss of life. Not one for every deck, but certainly serves its purpose.


Time to bite the bullet; This is a fine limited trick, though it’s not exciting. It’s worth considering when working out how you’ll block, and will be ok to use to save your fatty-boom-boom from a removal spell. I don’t think anyone will be excited to be running this.

Polluted Dead

So expensive. Please don’t pollute your decks with such garbage. Just too slow to see any play in either 60 or 40 card decks. I was really hoping for some Goblin Ruinblaster level of Land destruction in this set to make up for the printing of Cavern of Souls, but if this is the best we’ve got to work with, we’re going to be spending a long time staring at Primeval Titans over the next 6 months.

Predator’s Gambit

I’ve Unholy Strength’ed a guy or two in my time. Mostly in Shandalaar, and on Erg Raiders, but it’s been done before. I wouldn’t expect that doing so in the modern world will be a gambit that pays off however, even with the potential for situational evasion.

I can’t see this making many waves in limited either, where the evasion is going to be more relevant, if a little trickier to utilise.

Renegade Demon

I see that R&D haven’t reneged on some seeming obsession with printing Mass of Ghouls in every block. A mass by any other name, sadly remains just as mediocre as always, and shouldn’t be bothering too many decks. The slower the format, the better he’ll be, as we’ll be increasing the chances of him being able to trade with 5/5’s instead of 3/3’s. He’ll never set the world on fire, but from time to time, he’ll justify inclusion.

Searchlight Geist

This isn’t the missing piece that any deck has been searching for. He’s never seeing constructed play ever.

He’s sure to be playable in limited, as he’ll nip over the top for some damage early on, and then stall the board in the late game while you search for a way to win. Again, it’s not exciting, but it serves an important purpose.

Soulcage Fiend

Seems vaguely analogous to Keldon Marauders, but it’s probably closer to Pitchburn Devils. It’s an excellent use of the punisher mechanic, in that one way or another, they’re going to be taking the three. I actually think he’ll see some constructed play, and he’s obviously a flagship card in aggressive black decks.

Seems like he’ll be best of fiends with the next card on the list, and in the Zombie deck, he’ll wear a Mortarpod really well, but then doesn’t everything in that deck?

Treacherous Pit-Dweller

This is the closest thing I’ve seen to fitting that elusive 2-drop slot in the zombie decks. Sure, it’ll suck when your opponent wraths, and gets a 5/4 out of it, but by that point, you’re cleaning up with Geralf’s Messengers with Mortarpods anyway, so it might not be that big of a deal. A 4/3 for 2 mana just seems like too insane of a deal not to see play.

It’s unplayable in most black decks, but the more ‘balls to the wall’ decks might make use of him here and there. Sadly, as a rare, you’ll not be able to rely on picking up multiples, which is a shame. Again, while there’s not much actual removal in the format, it should be simple enough to regulate when you’re using him to minimise the draw-back, but it’s so huge that he’s definitely not going to be in every black deck.

Triumph of Cruelty

Does nothing itself, and the creatures in Black don’t really have the most impressive of stats. It’s reasonably costed enough that BG decks might be able to make use of it, but its unreliability is really going to hurt it. I hope I’m not being overly cruel, but I just don’t think it’s very good.

Undead Executioner

The fact that it’s a ‘dies’ trigger rather than ETB makes it difficult to use to execute your plans efficiently, but in 40-card land, this will be a very high pick. If you’re able to pick a couple of guys to control your timing, you’ll be looking at an excellent card. I can’t imagine many black decks that won’t want to be running as many of these as they can.

Again, it shouldn’t be up for discussion that there are many better options than this isn’t worthy of constructed consideration.

Unhallowed Pact

I can’t imagine any constructed deck that wants to pact this effect would use this over Undying Evil from Dark Ascension, but it’s a sweet trick for limited, and can act as a delayed Mind Control or a Pacifism, if you cast it on one of your opponents creatures. Again, it’s not the most exciting of cards, but the effect is powerful enough to warrant consideration.


Top 5 Black cards I might play in Constructed

1. Demonic Taskmaster
2. Griselbrand
3. Barter in Blood
4. Demonlord of Ashmouth
5. Gloom Surgeon

Top 5 Commons

1. Driver of the Dead
2. Soulcage Fiend
3. Searchlight Geist
4. Undead Executioner
5. Essence Harvest


Till next time mtgUK, stay classy!



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