Gatecrash Set Review Part 2/6 – Black and Dimir by Grant Hislop

Analysing the Modern Ban List – Spread the Sickness with Grant Hislop

Gatecrash Set Review Part 2/6 – Black and Dimir by Grant Hislop

Hello again! Previously, we covered White and Orzhov, which can be found here. Today, as outlined previously, we’ll move on to Black and Dimir, before (hopefully) tomorrow’s Blue and Simic. The cards covered previously were certainly impressive, so fingers crossed, we can keep the momentum going throughout Gatecrash.

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Without further preamble, Black cards!


Balustrade Spy

Balustrade Spy

Microsoft Word hasn’t underlined Balustrade as being a ‘Magic Only’ word, which was the biggest surprise to me. I was expecting the Dimir mechanic to be something more akin to this than Cipher, given seeming plants like Crosstown Courier in RTR, but alas, it’s not meant to be. Possibly come Dragon’s Maze, we’ll see some sort of mill based strategy come to pass, but until then, it’s unlikely we’ll be milling all that much in limited.

Constructed is another story though, but this card isn’t likely to be part of that, with the honours falling on premium cards like Nephalia Drownyard or Psychic Spiral rather than the lower quality ones such as Courier, Chronic Flooding or Balustrade Spy.

Basilica Screecher

I suppose this is decent in limited. Daggerdrome Imp proved to be solid in RTR, and this is slightly better, due to the Extort mechanic and the additional point of toughness. Again, the Extort provides an endgame, and a sufficient upside to see frequent limited play.

Obviously not at a Constructed level quality.

Contaminated Ground

Toilet Seats.

Corpse Blockade

I guess it holds the ground in forty card land pretty well, and will make bad players attack (or not) poorly, which is fine, I suppose. Not particularly exciting though, and very few decks will actually want it.

Crypt Ghast

Crypt Ghast

So it’s a creature based almost Mana Reflection for Swamps, which isn’t the worst. Is there a decent Black card like Drain Life or something that we can sink our mana into? Or even make our mana base Swamp heavy and cast a big Rakdos’s Return, Sphinx’s Revelation, Magmaquake or something else, which should be relatively easy to do with access to All 4 Black Shocklands and Liliana of Dark Realms, but that seems decent enough without playing Crypt Ghast.

I’m not the type of player for whom Crypt Ghast is designed for, so it’s quite tough to evaluate it appropriately, but I can definitely see myself losing at FNM or whatever to some ghastly combo deck featuring this at its center.

Death’s Approach

Generic black removal spell. Target creature gets –X/-X, where X is some bullshit. You should probably play this in Sealed deck.

Nothing to see here….

Devour Flesh

Devour Flesh

Ooh, this is exciting. Having mentioned my desire for Diabolic Edict in the last part of the review, I’m greeted with a reasonable impression of it in the very next section. Diabolic Edict has seen play all the way up to Vintage, and for very good reason. It’s better in a format where the creatures are either massive and singular or smaller and hexproof. This format, as it stands is moving depressingly towards the latter. I can see this, in concert with Liliana of the Veil as a pretty powerful tool against the Hexproof deck, and as a solid removal spell against everything else.

As always, the format needs to flesh out before an accurate picture of the removal required can be accurately determined, but I definitely expect to be casting this at some point in the next few months in a sixty card deck.

In limited, sacrifice based removal is less good, due to the scaling of creatures, and the prevalence of utility bodies clogging up the board. Still, removal’s removal, and situational removal is better than no removal at all. Removal.

Dying Wish

Dying Wish

Another terrible Enchantment. How surprising. This is almost Contaminated Ground level awful.

Gateway Shade

Shades are generally pretty good in limited, as a mana-sink, and it’s unlikely that this one is going to be any different. The only constructed playable Shade I can think of is Nantuko Shade, and that didn’t exactly light up on its last run through Standard, and that was a lot better than the Gateway version.

Grisly Spectacle

Removal. And good removal at that. Black has definitely got the lion’s share of the kill spells in this set, and it ranges all the way from bad to very good. This is absolutely at the latter end of the spectrum. Definitely a first pickable card, and the double black casting cost means that non-black drafters won’t be cutting you unnecessarily all that often.

Clearly a little on the expensive side for constructed, but this is a house in limited, and ties in with the Dimir milling sub-theme, which is interesting when we draft the whole block.

Gutter Skulk

Gutter Skulk

A zombie, a rat, and a bear, all in one card. Isn’t that exciting? Walking Corpse got played a bit, and this is better, I guess, given that that deck might feasibly want to play some number of Pack Rat between the Maindeck and Sideboard.

A fine curve filler in limited, where that sort of thing matters a lot. Again, bears are seldom bad.

Horror of the Dim

So it basically never dies to removal and blocks Centaur tokens all day, which is fine, but not exactly exciting. In RTR draft, Rubbleback Rhino was a legitimate bomb, so it’s possible I’m undervaluing it. I can see this being a high pick in draft, for sure.

Again, this is nowhere near constructed quality.

Illness in the Ranks

Illness in the Ranks

This is a pretty useful tool to have. Given that token decks have one and a half anthems at the moment – Intangible Virtue and Collective Blessing respectively, this writes off one of them, and acts as a quasi Wrath in the right circumstances. It’s less useful than Curse of Death’s Hold, but the difference between turn one and turn five is indescribable, meaning that they literally can’t play Lingering Souls until they find a Disenchant effect or an anthem, which is a very solid place to be.

While innocuous, I definitely see this as one of the best and most impactful black cards in the set.

Killing Glare

Black just keeps on giving. Removal spells out the wazoo. Again, this is at the ‘Good’ end of the spectrum, and is easily one of the top uncommons in the set. Easily splashable, and well worth the strain on the mana, in most cases.

Lord of the Void

Lord of the void

As I move onto this card, it’s 2.00 in the morning, and I’ve just been woken up by my junkie neighbour’s smoke alarm going off. His response wasn’t to open windows and fan it, but to open the stair door (3 feet from mine), shout at his equally repugnant partner for a while and jump about a bit, possibly with hammers. As I’m well and truly awake, I thought I might as well continue looking at Magic cards. C’est la vie, I guess. I hate junkies, and I hate my dirty, scummy neighbours.

Anyway, this card is rubbish outside of limited, where it plays nicely into Dimir’s incidental milling strategy, though hitting them with a 7/7 flier is likely to be the end of the game before trifling concerns like no cards to draw actually becomes a thing.

Mental Vapors

It makes me really sad, when using Microsoft Word, that every time I spell a word in the American fashion, ie Vapors instead of Vapours, it underlines it, attempting to bring to my attention my stupidity, as if I don’t know that what I’ve typed is wrong. I imagine that Word is judging me, like I judge those of the British Isles who adopt Americanisms into their everyday vernacular. Each time I hear someone say ‘Douchebag’, it makes me cringe, and part of my soul dies. If, as Wizards say, ‘English is the official language of the Pro Tour’, shouldn’t they actually use it on the cards, instead of their bastardiSation of it?

Anyway, this card is shitty, I’m in a shitty mood, it’s not an elevator, it’s a lift, there is a ‘U’ in colour, you don’t need to use the letter ‘Z’ so much, and there’s no realistic need for your private citizens to be armed to the teeth with assault rifles.

Midnight Recovery

Midnight Recovery

Two hours ago, I was almost asleep. That was the Midnight Recovery I’d been looking forward to all day. Then some vermin snapped me to attention as a result of their intravenous romance, and I have to try to think about witty(ish) things to say about unplayable garbage like this, which is so below the curve it’s barely worth registering as a card.

I can’t do it. It’s terrible, and I’m going back to bed. Hopefully I’ll be in a better mood in the morning, though I wouldn’t bet on it.

Ogre Slumlord

With a new morning comes a fresh perspective. Sadly, a new morning does not bring a good black card to look at. It’s not like Harvester of Souls would be seeing play if it cost a mana less, and it’s considerably better than this. Presumably when the whole block comes, we’ll get the occasional treat of double Pack Rat, double Ogre Slumlord pools to deal with, so that’s something to look forward to.

Constructed-wise, I suppose Marrow-Gnawer is a popular EDH general, and this goes in there nicely. Other than that, it’s a lot of hoops to jump through for a marginal body and a minor effect.

Sepulchral Primordial

Sepulchral Primordial

Continuing my education of the English language, ‘Sepulchral’ is a word too. It apparently means ‘Of or relating to a tomb or interment’. The more you know.

While it’s obviously designed with multi-player in mind, it’s not exactly unplayable in 1v1. 5/4 Intimidate isn’t the worst return, though seven mana is a big ask. How good this is is obviously linked to what people are putting in their graveyards. It’s a lot better getting back an Angel of Serenity than an Arbor Elf. I can’t really see it getting played at all, but it’s probably closer than it initially looks.

Limited bomb, clearly.

Shadow Alley Denizen

This is reminiscent of the Metalcraft-Mage cycle from Scars of Mirrodin block, in that this is probably OK in limited, but will never see the light of day in constructed. I doubt it’s even that good in limited, to be honest, as 1/1’s for one seldom are, but it’s an interesting enough ability that I might be wrong.

Shadow Slice

Shadow Slice

Man, they’ve really played it safe with these Cipher cards, haven’t they? I suppose, for 5 mana, with an active Invisible Stalker, you’re looking at a seven point chunk of their life total, but even then, it’s not THAT much better than a Lava Axe.

In limited, where there aren’t any Stalkers running around, it’s an even worse return on investment. I was really hoping for big things from Cipher, and I’m underwhelmed across the board.

Slate Street Ruffian

So it’s obviously not a constructed card, and the body isn’t exactly great for limited either. It’s small enough that it’s easy to ignore, and the ability gives my opponent choices. Once in top-deck mode, it’s almost entirely useless.

Perhaps my tone has indicated, I’m not impressed with this card. At all.

Smog Elemental

Smog Elemental

I suppose it’s more Lingering Souls hate, and that’s not a bad thing. This is where the difference in rarity comes into play though. For one mana less, you could get a Thundermaw Hellkite. Assuming card availability isn’t an issue, there’s no discernible reason to play this thing over Thundermaw, which is strictly (much) better.

Solid limited curve topper, and an excellent quasi-removal spell against some decks, like the Daring Skyjek heavy Boros decks which are sure to be popular.

Syndicate Enforcer

This is probably the most aggressively costed Extort creature that I’ve seen thusfar, and even then, it’s not especially powerful. 3/2 for four isn’t bad, per se, and as with all of the Extort cards, it provides a legitimate end game outside of the body, so it’s at least worth discussion. I see this being a reasonably decent card, solid, yet unspectacular.

Constructed trash, etc…

Thrull Parasite

Thrull Parasite

Having just given the spoiler a once over, I can’t remember if there’s anything outside of the Planeswalkers which get counters that I’d feasibly want to pay two life to return a counter from, but even then, it’s so slow, very low impact, and outside of the Extort, I see no reason to even consider this card.

Again, low cost Extort cards seem like a trap, like Werewolves were, for people in limited to blow themselves out. Be very careful with this, as it’s seldom right to wait until you’ve got an extra mana to start playing your spells. Just curve out, and use this as a late game.

Undercity Informer

This is actually a legitimate bomb uncommon. What an end-game this provides! The body is solid in the early game, and the ability to turn chumps into mill is incredible. This is easily one of my favourite cards for draft in the set, and I anticipate first-picking it over many of the rares here. It’s definitely possible that the Dimir deck should be more focused on incidental mill than Cipher, which is kind of a shame.

I loves me some decking in limited.

Undercity Plague

Cipher Smallpox. At least it’s one-sided, but it’s not great. I think this is the most effective Cipher card, and even then, I’m not exactly impressed. Six mana is just too significant an investment for this type of effect.

More things for FNM players to cast on their Invisible Stalkers, though I doubt it’ll make the jump to the Grand Prix and Pro Tour level.

Wight of Precinct Six

Wight of Precinct Six

This is like Boneyard Wurm, but better, as you can play it into an empty board. This scales up as the game progresses, and is actually a decent top-deck in the late game. Coupled with the rest of Dimir’s milling, this can easily get out of hand quickly. Innocuously powerful.

Concluding Black, and moving onto Dimir

Bane Alley Broker

Looters are always good, and I suppose this has additional utility in that you can get the card you discard back, if you need to. The body is large enough that he can actually block, unlike most Looters, so he’s got additional value there as well. Bane Alley Broker is probably one of the best Dimir cards to get, as Looters usually are.

Call of the Nightwing

Call of the nightwing

If I’m forced to find something positive to say about a four mana 1/1 flier, I guess it’s nice that it provides an evasive body for its own Cipher. Other than that though, it’s pretty grim. It’s such a small return on investment, and takes so long to actually accomplish anything. Bitterblossom, this ain’t.

Consuming Aberration

It’s a regeneration-less Mortivore, but it’s pro-active about making itself bigger. The more cards I see, the more I feel like ‘Mill to a land’ is the real Dimir mechanic, and we can just ignore the underwhelming Cipher cards.

Limited Bomb, easily splashable, almost never pass this

Dimir Charm

This charm is interesting, in that it’s actually got four abilities. The draw regulation of the third ability can hit both players, adding more options to the card, which is awesome. The counter ability is solid, and a removal spell is always welcome, even if it is very conditional.

I’m definitely expecting to cast this a lot in the next few months, as with all of the Charm cycle. When we get to Boros, I’ll give you a top ten list of the Charms, as people like that sort of thing. If that doesn’t give you an incentive to keep plowing through these set reviews, I don’t know what will. Perhaps more 2am breakdowns complaining about the junkies next door? Answers in the forums please.

Dinrova Horror

Dinrova Horror

Recoil was playable at three mana, and this hits permanents rather than just creatures, and comes with a 4/4 body as well for the miser’s sum of three mana. It’s a bit on the expensive side for an Unsummon on a stick, as these tempo cards really need to be cheap.

Really solid limited card though, as Voidwielder and all of the other Man O’War variants have shown us over the years.

Duskmantle Guildmage

This is part of another instant-kill combo in standard. With Jace, Memory Adept, activate the first ability on the Guildmage twice, and congratulations, you’ve just dealt twenty damage to your opponent. That’s pretty exciting. Plus, in the waning days of the old standard, Jace 3.0 has been more and more widely adopted.

Both this and his Orzhov counterpart are the most likely to make the trickle into constructed decks, though I’m not exactly convinced that either of them are going to have the staying power necessary to become format staples.

Super good in limited, as mana sinks usually are.

Duskmantle Seer

Duskmantle Seer

The best nickname I’ve heard for this card so far is ‘Bilateral Bob’, and I hope that becomes commonplace. I can definitely see this making a splash in Dimir aggro decks, if such a thing exists. Is it time for Delver of Secrets to make its comeback? The fact that this dodges all of the commonly played removal spells in Standard is huge, as obviously cards don’t exist in a vacuum, and are only as good as the surrounding environment allows them to be.

In limited, it’s cheaper than an Air Elemental, and the ability isn’t irrelevant, where curves are likely to be somewhat higher than in a typical constructed deck. Really solid card, and can definitely win the game on its own, which is the benchmark for a four mana spell in constructed, never mind draft.

Lazav, Dimir Mastermind

Hooray, more hexproof guys! Just what we needed. Clone is solid, though it was better when it cost two. 3/3 for a difficult four mana isn’t the worst, and the abilities are excellent in concert with actually playing the game of Magic, as occasionally he’ll turn into a Dragon, an Angel, a Demon or something equally scary.

It’s probably not quite good enough for constructed, though I expect to see it as a general at the EDH tables in the very near future. Casual players love mill, and this seems like an excellent general for the archetype.

Mind Grind

Mind Grind

Mind Funeral is a $5 card. This is a scalable Mind Funeral. Draw your own conclusions. Of course, Mind Funeral’s demand is entirely as a result of the aforementioned mill-centric casual community, but still. This is probably closer to constructed playability than you might think, in concert with Nephalia Drownyards and co, as a legitimate kill condition for a control deck. I don’t THINK it’s better than Psychic Spiral, but I’d need to experiment with both of them a bit before leaping to conclusions.

Works really well with the rest of the Dimir cards for limited, which is nice. I expect people to need to remember that they can add as many basic lands as they like in draft for games 2+3 quite quickly…

Mortus Strider

Obviously not on constructed level, but a 1/1 that never properly dies is solid in limited. The loss of tempo is a concern, but it’s an excellent way to hold the ground almost indefinitely, though it would be nicer if it had a chance of actually trading with something.

Paranoid Delusions

Shitty gold Cipher card? Check. Moving on.

Psychic Strike

It’s better than Cancel in Dimir decks, though that’s not exactly the highest bar, given that Cancel’s seeing no play. If the format breaks right this could be solid as a way to slightly speed up the kill in the Dimir deck.

Soul Ransom

Soul Ransom

Mind Control is top notch, and this isn’t any different. Even if they have to sacrifice, you’re still getting an insane return on the investment. Again though, it gives the opponent choices, and opponents seldom have our best interests in mind when considering their plays. Worst case scenario though, you’ve stolen their best creature on the board, and maybe you’ll draw some cards.

Whispering Madness

The first Cipher card spoiled, and one which was met with anticipation of better cards to come. Sadly, that was not to be. Windfall is solid, but paying one mana more for the same effect isn’t ideal, and traditionally, Windfall decks aren’t exactly spoiling for creatures to encode the Cipher onto.

I like this for limited though, where it’s going to help your opponent thin their libraries, and speed up the kill, if you can ever connect with the encoded creature. It’s not quite a bomb, but it’s a decent support card for the types of Dimir deck that I expect to see.

Top 5 Cards I Want to Play in Constructed:-

Dimir Charm

1. Dimir Charm
2. Duskmantle Seer
3. Illness in the Ranks
4. Devour Flesh
5. Undercity Plague (it’s pretty slim pickings)

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What are your top 5 cards pick from this guild?


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