M13 2013 Core Set Review – Black by Grant Hislop

M13 2013 Core Set Review – White by Grant Hislop


Hello again.

Previously, we’ve covered the white and blue cards from M13, and for the most part, they’ve been pretty good so far. Following a somewhat disappointing Avacyn Restored, it’s time to see if there’s anything worth writing about.

I’ve got to be honest, I’m a little concerned that Doom Blade isn’t in the set. That card seemed like basically perfect design, but with it and Go for the Throat rotating on Return to Ravnica’s release, we’re quite likely to be left wanting for removal. Fingers crossed that we get something sweet in Ravnica, because we’re going to need it.

As before, any comments, keep them in the comments below rather than on individual links. More visible = more discussion.

Without further ado, here’s the black cards from M13!


Blood Reckoning

So far, we’re off to a bad start. A more expensive Hissing Miasma isn’t really going to get anyone excited, I wouldn’t have thought. Blood Reckoning’s only potential application would be in a Black/White tokens mirror, to swing the race a little more, but that’s pretty narrow, and it seems like just playing something higher impact would be preferable.

It’s on the radar, but I’m reckoning it’ll not be needed.

I can’t see this making the cut in any maindecks in 40 card land. It might come in if your opponent is playing a swarm deck, and you’re trying to race. Again, it’s pretty narrow, but it does have SOME applications here. Not many, but I try to keep myself open to seemingly bad cards that do something relatively unique.

Bloodhunter Bat

I think we can all agree, regardless of how much hunting we do, this won’t find a home in a constructed deck, but limited is another story. Highway Robber is almost always a playable card, and this is easier to cast, and comes with evasion as well. I think this is definitely one of the better black commons, and adds an element of reach to a deck that might not have it otherwise.

It’s probably not at ‘splash black for Bloodhunter Bat’ power level, but I think it’s closer than you might initially think.

Bloodthrone Vampire

We’ve seen this before, but never in constructed. That won’t change.

Cower in Fear

Zealous Persecution was awesome. This is absolutely miles away from Zealous Persecution. The only slightly redeeming factor is that Cower in Fear is an instant, so can potentially blow people out in combat. It’s probably one that’s best left for the token mirrors, as there’s better options available in Slagstorm, Whipflare and Black Sun’s Zenith for everyone else at the moment. It’s not bad, I just feel like the applications are a little too narrow for my liking.

It’s got to be insane in limited however. Infest and Marsh Casualties were always high picks, and while this isn’t quite either of those, again, this is an instant. It’s going to throw off people’s maths, be they trying to alpha strike, or just straight up blowing them out by making their blocks terrible. Deceptively powerful, and I’d expect this to be a 1-3rd pick level card, and I say that without much fear of reprisal.

Crippling Blight

The thing about a card like this is that’s there’s a lot of competition. I can’t imagine ever wanting to run this over Tragic Slip, for example, and Dead Weight’s still available. It’s not cripplingly shite, it’s just that there are better options available.

The ‘can’t block’ clause makes this a lot better than it might otherwise seem, as these things generally lose value as the game progresses, but this helps you keep racing through something obnoxious as well as picking of the little guys in the early game. Solid card.

Dark Favor

I’ve seen this played in an Infect deck, to great effect. I imagine that that’s pretty much the only deck that this goes in, and Wild Defiance has presumably removed any need for this, due to being far less fragile, and green offering access to Glistener Elf.

Much better than you think in Limited as well. I’ve cast more than my fair share of these in core set drafts, and I’m very rarely disappointed. I was of the school of thought who valued Oakenform highly in M10 for example. People are seemingly programmed, for better or worse to think that Auras are bad as they transition into competitive Magic, and while I wouldn’t play Holy Strength any time soon, I’d encourage you to do yourself a Dark Favor, and try this out.

Diabolic Revelation

I assume this will get snap banned in EDH. I can’t imagine ever trying to do anything remotely fair with this in a 100 card format, where getting to 5 mana constitutes the early game. It’s closer than you think to 60 card playability too. People are playing Increasing Ambition in small numbers, and this seems slightly better to me.

Basically, I’ve played Blue Sun’s Zenith as a way to draw a large number of cards, and I think I’d be willing to pay 2 extra mana to hand pick the cards that I wanted to draw at sorcery speed. I think that this is one of the best top decks imaginable in a control on control mirror, especially if we’re moving towards a less permission heavy environment.

Basically, the revelation is that I think this is actually good, while most people seem to be dismissing it.

In limited, I play Diabolic Tutor if I have an unbeatable bomb. As Eddie Ross once said ‘Pick one, I picked a Cabal Patriarch. Pick two, I picked another one’. Better than you think it is.

Disciple of Bolas

I’m not sure that this has a home outside of Birthing Pod, or possibly some sort of BG Rock deck, to sacrifice a Strangleroot Geist or something else with Undying, but even then, I don’t think it’s good enough.

Obviously, if you don’t have a creature, you don’t have to sacrifice, meaning that you’ve just paid 4 mana for a 2/1, which seems even worse. I really can’t see this card making any splashes in constructed.

In limited however, the ability to cash in an irrelevant guy for some more gas and a few life sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. Clearly you require a bit of set up to make him work, but the pay-off is potentially there.


Again, we’ve had this card for a long time, and we’ve not played it. I don’t think we’ll be raising dead anytime soon in constructed. Even if we did want this effect, there are better options available in Ghoulcaller’s Chant, which also sees no play.

It’s not the worst effect in limited, and given that Gravedigger has rotated, this is the only way to get your creatures back to your hand from the graveyard, if that’s what you’re in the market for. The thing with Gravedigger though, was that one of the best things that you could do was chain them together to hold the ground indefinitely, which obviously Disentomb doesn’t allow. I’ll probably try one, when I’ve got the option to do so, but never any more than one.


So happy to see this back again. The point discard has been pretty woeful for the last year, with only Despise to play with, and Despise it, I do. Duress does what you want it to, in that it hits ‘Walkers, artifacts and enchantments, which black decks traditionally have problems with, and gives valuable information about our opponents hands, while leaving them with the cards that black can usually deal with; the creatures.

I don’t typically value this effect highly in limited, as they matches are generally creature battles. I do side them in if I suspect a Fireball or Overrun or the like though. I know there are some people who swear that these are maindeckable, but I’d be under extreme Duress if I did the same. Your mileage may vary.

Duskmantle Prowler

I’ve been prowling around the decks of standard from dawn to dusk, and I can’t find a home for this. It’s too expensive for such an irrelevant set of abilities on a small body. Unplayable.

In limited, we’re looking at potentially a hasty Hill Giant, onto an empty board, which isn’t the worst. Sadly, it doesn’t block as well, but I think the fact that it pumps later, larger creatures is pretty sweet. There’s not much Exalted in black, but combining this with a couple of Knight of Infamy etc is a pretty scary proposition for most decks to deal with.

Duty-Bound Dead

Well, it costs one mana, and has Exalted. We surely all remember how good Noble Hierarch was, right? It’s my duty to point out that this is not Noble Hierarch, nor is it even remotely playable in constructed. Not even if it were a zombie, for those decks that care about such things, like, uh, Zombies.

I like it in limited though, where it’ll hold back and block quite well while pumping your offense, and can stall your opponent’s best guy on the ground indefinitely, ala Fog Bank. Pretty impressive creature, all things considered.

Essence Drain

Far too expensive for any serious constructed considerations, but it’s a relevant amount of reach for a limited deck. A 6 point life swing is nothing to be sneezed at, certainly, and costing 5 isn’t exactly the most significant drain on resources that it’s unplayable. I’ve certainly thrown my share of Lava Axes in core set limited, and I think this is similar enough that I’ll be doing the same with my opponents essence.

Giant Scorpion

Another port from Zendikar block, I don’t think I’ve seen this in constructed yet, but it’s probably not as unrealistic as I think it is. It’s always going to at least trade, and an X/3 is certainly a relevant body. Can’t imagine ever wanting this over Vampire Nighthawk though, so I think this will continue to avoid the constructed tables.

I valued these really highly in Zendikar block, and I doubt it’ll be any different in this slower, core set format. Will always trade up, and makes attacking on the ground a futile effort. A wonderfully designed card, and definitely one that should make the cut in core sets for the next few years. Definitely a first-pick level common.

Harbor Bandit

Being neither a Vampire nor a Zombie, it seems unlikely that anyone’s harbouring constructed ambitions for this guy. Even if he were a 3/3 unblockable any time you controlled an island, he’d be ambitious to include, but making you pay 2 for the privilege makes this guy stone cold unplayable.

In limited, he goes from Grey Ogre to Hill Giant in terms of playability, again neither of which are bad, and he’s clearly better in UB decks, as a quasi-Phantom Warrior type card. Obviously, if you’re UB, you want as many of these as you can get your hands on, and if you’re not, you’ll play it if you’re in the market for Ogres.

Knight of Infamy

I think he’s better than his glorious counterpart, as protection from white is better than black at present. While Phyrexian mana is giving white decks solid removal, it’s unlikely that this will make an impact. Were there to be a surge in Gather the Townsfolk based decks, rather than Lingering Souls, for whatever reason, this could be good, but I’d almost always just be playing Phyrexian Crusader, even in non-infect decks.

It’s obviously powerful in limited, as 2 power for 2 mana with Exalted is definitely a deal I can get behind. The protection will go from irrelevant to back breaking from match to match, but the Exalted is always going to be relevant. Any time you’re getting passed these should be taken as a strong signal that black is open.

Liliana of Dark Realms

I like this Planeswalker far more than most people seem to. The +1 ability is effectively ‘draw a card’, which I’m always a fan of, even if that card is always a land. Sure, it can’t protect itself the turn it comes down, but 4 loyalty isn’t the worst starting place.

I think that the problem is that there’s not much demand for huge amounts of Black mana at the moment. I was expecting a Drain Life or Consume Spirit to act as a sink for this, and it’s not like Bonfire of the Damned really requires that much help to be awesome, but I think people can be too focused on the ultimates of Planeswalkers. I’m quite happy generally to trade this for a card a turn it lives, and saving a bunch of life if they attack it. I think this is a Planeswalker that people will be quite happy to ignore for the most part, so I’ll just keep on drawing swamps and sniping creatures.

Mono Black control’s been taking off of late, and I played very little else on MODO yesterday, so it seems like the addition of Liliana and Mutilate will make the archetype even stronger, for those who’re in the market for that sort of thing.

Liliana’s Shade

Nantuko Husk got a core set reprinting, and it was a shade of its former glory. This type of effect is just not powerful enough for modern constructed formats.

In limited, we’re looking at the black Borderland Ranger, which is obviously a powerful card, and it’s one that will generally mean that you can hit your 5 and 6 drops in time, which can’t be underestimated. I’m a big fan of Shades in limited, as a mana sink, and this does far more than most. Seems like a pretty good thing to sink your ultimated Liliana of Dark Realms mana into *cough cough*

Mark of the Vampire

Won’t be making a mark on constructed, vampiric or otherwise.

As I said before, I liked Oakenform in limited, and this is slightly better, as Lifelink is probably worth more than 1 colourless mana. I can see strapping this onto a flier quite a bit, and basically winning every race situation. Will be really good against the red decks, whose removal is generally damage based, if you can sneak it onto a creature while they’re tapped out.

Mind Rot

I’ve played this in constructed more than I’d like to admit. Usually it was as Blightning’s number 5 and 6, though. It’s a fine limited card, and I value them highly. Probably higher than I should, but the number of times I’ve hit Serra Angel with this is far greater than it has any business being. Solid card, and I always want one when I’m in black.


Doom Blade is gone. How sad. The fact that Murder has no targeting restrictions is quite interesting, and means that it’ll probably see play as a 1-2 of in control decks. This is the best removal spell of the limited environment, and should be treated as such. Will be a common first pick, and given the double black in the cost, won’t be taken by the ‘splash for Doom Blade’ crew as usual.


I was hoping for Damnation, but this is what we’ve got instead. I wasn’t around for Mutilate’s first go in the sun, so I don’t really know how good it’s going to be in non Mono-Black decks. Probably not going to make the cut unless you’re hugely committed to black, but with the titans rotating, it’s unclear how good this will be after rotation.

I’m very interested to see how this plays out, because, as I’ve mentioned above, Mono-Black has been seeing play in current standard, and this is a clear upgrade to Black Sun’s Zenith in that deck.

In limited, it’s basically a Wrath, and you pretty much always play your Wraths. It’s better the blacker you are, obviously, but I can’t see this not being a first pickable card.

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis

Speaking of first picks, this guy is exactly what you’re looking for. He’s a massive body with conditional removal attached. The exalted means that he’s always going to impact combat in some way, even if he’s not attacking himself. I can’t imagine ever not first picking this guy.

In constructed, tacking removal onto your finishers isn’t a bad thing, and given that the big bad grave daddy will be rotating soon, we’re going to be looking at alternative options. I think Nefarox might see some play, as it seems like the most likely black candidate. He’s definitely one to watch. Casual players like this type of effect too; Look at the price on Thraximundar, for example.

Phylactery Lich

I’ll admit that I thought this was a plant for Scars block when we saw him a couple of years ago, so I was picking these up en masse. I’ve still got a stack of about 40 of them sitting at home somewhere, that I’m glad I’ll be able to slot back into my folder, but I don’t think he’ll get any better when Scars block leaves us.

In limited, I’d need to have at least 4-5 playable artifacts before I’d consider this, and I don’t think that’ll come up often. Definitely one to pick up on the wheel if you’re likely to get this though. I’ve seen decks with 2 of these, and a bunch of Dragon’s Claw type things in the past, so it’s not a total blank, it just requires a lot of work.

Public Execution

I’m going to go on public record, and say that this has no constructed applications.

When we first start drafting this set, it’ll be relatively easy to use this to get 3-4 for 1’s, which is value approved by the Mayor of Valuetown, but as we get more familiar, we’ll only be using it as a 1 for 1, which, while still good, makes me cautious about paying 6 mana. Still, removal’s removal, and beggars can’t be choosers. I’ll always play this if I’m black, and I’ll probably splash it if I’m not.

Ravenous Rats

I play fair amount of pauper, so I’ve got experience of how good this can be. It’s really powerful on the play, where you’re likely to leave your opponent with the tension between discarding a spell and a land, without the knowledge of whether they’ll actually be able to draw enough lands to cast their spells. Imagine T1 Duress, T2 Rats, T3 Mind Rot, T4 Restoration Angel in constructed. Sure, aside from the Angel, there’s nothing individually powerful here, but in tandem, that’s our opponents hand absolutely shredded, and you’ve got a board.

Deceptively powerful.

Has similar limited applications, and gets a lot better in multiples. Again, you’re just giving your opponent enough rope to hang themselves with. I know that so often in Shards block, you’d hear people bemoaning ‘I think I discarded the wrong cards to Blightning’, and this helps with that kind of ‘Just enough rope to hang yourself’ kind of strategy. I’m probably more of a fan of Ravenous Rats than I should be. Time will tell.

Rise from the Grave

Should be called Rise from the Toilet. Unburial Rites is legal, and the additional value of getting to look at an opponent’s graveyard as well isn’t better than potentially 2 uses out of Unburial Rites.

Crazy good in limited, however, where the ability to kill an opponent’s bomb, and use it against them, or have a second try if they kill yours is wonderful. Being a Zombie is irrelevant in the limited environment, and being black only impacts Knight of Glory, but it’s such a good card. Easily splashable, and exactly the power level you want from a splash. Can’t see this not being good this time around.

Servant of Nefarox

I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell you how bad this is in constructed. Exalted isn’t worth such a bad card.

For limited, again, the Exalted makes it much more worthwhile. Curving the Knight of Infamy into this into the Prowler isn’t a bad curve, certainly, and should be doable. I’m certainly interested to try this out.

Shimian Specter

This won’t see play while Memoricide is around, and it’s not like Memoricide is seeing much play anyway, however unjustly that may be. I think this is a reprint, but it’s so irrelevant that I’m not even going to look for where it came from. It saw no play last time it was in the format, and I doubt this go-round will be any different.

It’s an evasive creature for a realistic cost in limited, which isn’t bad, and the ability might be relevant, if you can actually connect with it. Slap a Dark Favor on it, and go to town.

Sign in Blood

It’s a sign of the times that this is back. It’s been played before, and I’m sure it’ll be played again. I’ve died to far more Sign in Bloods than I’d care to remember, and I’m sure you have as well.

These are filler cards in limited, ala Divination. You’ll usually play them, and they’re not the best cards in the deck, but they’re not the worst either. At least this has the option of being a Shock to the opponent as well, when you’re trying to push through those last couple of points of damage.

Tormented Soul

No constructed applications, clearly, but these can add up in limited. Another one to strap a Dark Favor to, and you’ve got a real clock. It’s hard to get too excited about these, but they’re pretty easy to collect as the draft goes on, as are Dark Favors.

Vampire Nighthawk

This sees play all the way up to legacy, and I’m really happy to see Batman back in standard. One of the simplest designs imaginable on a reasonable body has added up to one of the best creatures in recent memory. Was the best card in Zendikar block to first pick, outside of Sorin Markov, and I can’t see it being any different in the slower core set format. Again, open 2 of these at your pre-release and ruin peoples days.

I can’t speak highly enough of this card, I’ve won a lot with him, and I’m glad to get the opportunity to do so again.

Vampire Nocturnus

This has probably dropped a bit in power since its last outing, where we had Bloodghast and Kalastria Highborn teaming up with this, and when you cast Nocturnus, it usually said ‘if the top card of your library is black, you win this turn’, but there’s still a reasonable amount of support for the vampire tribe, for those who’re into that sort of thing. I’m really glad I unloaded my stock of these when they were still £20 each, as the reprinting will tank the value.

There are 3 other black vampires in the set, so he’ll not usually be pumping more than himself, but that’s obviously pretty good as well. Definitely a first pickable card.

Veilborn Ghoul

Possibly has a home in black based Birthing Pod strategies, as any kind of recursion is welcome. Can’t see it being much use anywhere else though, but any type of built in recursion is worth considering.

It’s a realistic curve topper in the more aggressive black decks. That it can’t defend is a pretty big negative, and you’d have to have been born yesterday to overlook that entirely, but it’s built in recursion means that a more removal heavy aggressive deck can use these to great effect, and even control decks can use him as The Abyss because he never stays dead for long.

Vile Rebirth

It’s primary purpose seems likely to be versus Zombies, to deal with Geralf’s Messenger or Gravecrawler, and combos really well with Snapcaster Mage to do so. Playing narrow effects like this is fine, if the format calls for it. Time will tell if it does or not, and I’ll definitely keep an eye on this.

Don’t think it’s powerful enough for limited, requiring you to jump through a lot of hoops. It’s pretty good if your opponent is reanimating a lot though, but it’s better left in the board, I think.

Walking Corpse


Moving on.

Wit’s End

So expensive that by the time you can cast it, Mind Rot would likely do a similar job for half the cost. Can’t see it getting any play this time around either.

Same comment is true for limited. Again, in my usual sealed pool, I expect one of these sitting alongside my Battle of Wits

Xathrid Gorgon

This is exactly what you’re looking for in a first pick rare. It’s easily splashable, makes an immediate impact on the board, and takes over the game if it’s allowed to live. Sure, you’ll still need to find a way to break the stall, but every turn that this lives, you’re sapping away at his ability to actually win the game.

Constructed unplayable, however. Too expensive, and it requires a mana commitment every turn means that this will only be turning things to stone in 40 card land.

Zombie Goliath

It’d be a David vs Goliath level battle to find a home for this in constructed. There are just better options for half the cost.

I play these in limited, and they’re not flashy, but they certainly get the job done. You should too, as they’re not nearly as bad as they seem.

Top 5 cards I want to play in constructed:-

1. Vampire Nighthawk
2. Liliana of Dark Realms
3. Murder
4. Mutilate
5. Duress

Top 5 commons:-

1. Murder
2. Bloodhunter Bat
3. Giant Scorpion
4. Liliana’s Shade
5. Sign in Blood



Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing.




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