Magic 2014 (M14) Set Review – Black by Grant Hislop

Magic 2014 (M14) Set Review – White by Grant Hislop

Magic 2014 (M14) Set Review – Black by Grant Hislop

Well, it’s still Friday, and I’m planning on bashing on through at least part of Black this evening. So far on my day off, I’ve written 9000 words about M14 and watched three episodes of The Sopranos. That show is tough to watch, because everyone’s so unlikeable. When James Gandolfini died the other week, it occurred to me that I hadn’t finished the season, only getting to the end of season three, so I decided to catch up.

It’s basically the best TV performance by an actor, so it’s not been unpleasant, but jeez, finding a character to sympathise with, or even relate with in any way’s been pretty difficult.

Anyway, you probably don’t care about my TV watching habits, so let’s look at some Magic Cards. Spoiler alert:- Doom Blade is back. For all M14 Set Reviews, click here.

Magic 2014 (M14) Set Review – Black

Accursed Spirit

Accursed SpiritThis is essentially a colour shifted Bladetusk Boar, and while Black’s creatures are traditionally worse than Red’s, this isn’t exactly going to be constructed playable now that it’s a ghost. These types of cards are solid in limited, and serve a purpose as a body and a realistic threat. It’s fine, and it’s always going to be difficult to cut them, however much you might be underwhelmed by the stats.

Do remember though: It’s Core Set, everyone’s creatures are boring and terrible.

Altar’s Reap

We know this card. It saw some play, in conjunction with Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger. It was OK. Those cards are a) Rotating and b) Not seeing play anyway, which doesn’t fill me with optimism for the constructed playability of Altar’s Reap.

There seem to be a fair few Innistrad block cards that have made the jump into the Core set, but none of them have really been the staples. Would Snapcaster Mage or Lingering Souls just be too obnoxious for another year?

Limited wise, it’s fine, and gets better the more utility creatures you’re running. Archaeomancer’ing back an Altar’s Reap isn’t the most unpleasant thing I’ve thought about this afternoon, for certain.

Artificer’s Hex

Ugh, cards like this are really annoying to me. Generally, you’ll want to equip your worst guy, to get his stats up, and even if the creature’s already equipped, the opponent can just move it onto something worse and leave it unequipped, or re-equip the following turn.

It’s not like there’s anything Sword of X+Y level in Standard at the moment anyway, and any format where there could be, we’ve got access to better disenchant effects and creature removal anyway. This card screams ‘Trap’ to me, and strikes me as one that better players will be leaving in their sideboards come pre-release time.


BlightcasterYuck. This is basically just a body, though I suppose there are actually a few playable Black Enchantments here – Quag Sickness, Mark of the Vampire and Dark Favor that make this not entirely untenable to get a bit of value out of. For the most part though, it’s just a body, but it’s not the least efficient body out there, especially for Black.

Nowhere near Constructed playable though, which is a shame, because who doesn’t want to throw giant purple skulls at their opponents?

Blood Bairn

The art on this card alone should be enough to have it immediately supplant Nantuko Husk and/or Phyrexian Ghoul in any deck that was using them previously. Sadly, those were generally EDH decks, and we’ve got better options in Standard, if we’re in the market to be throwing our own creatures under the bus.

I can’t say enough good things about the card art though, it’s absolutely fantastic, and the flavour text is actually humorous, which is incredibly rare on Magic cards. Brilliant stuff.

Bogbrew Witch

How good this is is entirely deck dependent, and none of it is worth playing in Constructed, so I won’t waste time considering potential Standard brews with this nonsense.

Child of Night

This is always on the cusp of being good enough, and at the moment, there’s actually the support for the tribe. It’s possible that Rakdos Vampires might actually be good enough to cut it now with the addition of Child of Night. A super rough, no testing initial decklist would look something like:-

Child of Night m144 Bloodcrazed Neonate
4 Child of Night
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
2 Falkenrath Exterminator
2 Rakish Heir
4 Stromkirk Captain
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Vampire Interloper
2 Vampire Nocturnus

4 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Doom Blade

4 Blood Crypt
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Dragonskull Summit
3 Mountain
4 Rakdos Guildgate
3 Swamp

The mana’s horrible, as any deck playing Vampire Nocturnus and Stromkirk Noble is bound to be, but this deck actually looks like it’d have some possibilities. I’ll chuck it together, and see if it’s actually worth exploring any further.

Corpse Hauler

Corpse HaulerThis is something that I can get on board with. It’s probably limited only, but it’s not completely out of the realms of possibility that it makes the jump over. As an aggressively costed semi-Gravedigger, it’s fine, but at the point when it’s going to get killed off, you can trade it up for the best creature in your Graveyard.

It’s pretty simple, and very flavourful. I’m a fan, and will be picking up a foil copy or two, for my cube, and it strikes me that this might be worthwhile in EDH too, and those guys love their sparklies.


As a reprint, we know what this card can do. As it’s been reprinted recently, again, we know what it’s like under the New World Order, and it wasn’t particularly impressive. Mono Black hasn’t been a deck in years, no matter what its fanboys say, and immediately following the multicolour that is Return to Ravnica doesn’t exactly bode well for it this time around.

This is one of many draws into a mono or mostly Black archetype in Limited though, and this, in conjunction with Quag Sickness will likely lead to some quite ambitious mana bases to accommodate it. I’m a fan of this card, and the archetype in general, so it’s interesting to see how it’s going to play out.

Dark Favor

At the opposite end of the spectrum though, sits Dark Favor, while they’re likely to be in similar decks, Dark Favor will be at the more aggressive end, and will be looking to use Corrupt as a finisher rather than as removal.

We’ve played with Dark Favor before, and it’s very good. While we don’t get Tormented Soul to Favor this time around, there are plenty of cheap, evasive fliers across the colours to suit up. This isn’t a mostly black card, and will go into any aggro deck that wants to go Voltron. I expect Rakdos decks to value this quite highly, as well as any possible Orzhov decks that would want this too. Basically, anything with an abundance of cheap, effieicent creatures that we can make better would be fair game.

Dark Prophecy

Dark ProphecyYuck. This is just so rancid, I can’t even be bothered to think up a joke about how bad it is. Here’s a rubbish one. Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow walk into a bar. I forget the rest, but your mother’s a whore.

Deathgaze Cockatrice

This is fine as a limited filler card. It’s evasive, and should always be able to trade up, which is nice, but it’s a little more expensive than we’d like. I’d love to have seen this as a 2/1 for three, but we get what we’re given. It’s hard to get too excited about this card, but it’s, like many of the cards in this set, solid yet unspectacular.

Diabolic Tutor

A second copy of your Nightmare. Don’t mind if I do. It’s fine, we know what we’re getting here, and it’s hard to get too excited. Tutors like this aren’t what they used to be, as it’s just a little slow, and there aren’t that many cards that it’s worth spending an entire turn going and getting them.

Doom Blade

Hello again, old friend, I’ve missed you.

At so many points in the last year, I’ve yearned for Doom Blade. Here it is again. It’ll be interesting to see how the Esper decks adopt this, as quality point and click removal has been somewhat lacking. Warped Physique did a reasonable job for me, and the ability to kill a Falkenrath Aristocrat was very welcome, but sometimes you just want something clean that doesn’t force you to jump through hoops.

Welcome back Doom Blade.


This seems to be the industry standard discard spell, and it’s always fine. There are enough creature based decks such as Blitz that it’s not main-deckable, but that’s entirely format dependent. I like most of my black decks to have access to one or two of these in the seventy-five, and I don’t see that changing in the near future.

There’s a lot of talk about Thoughtseize in Theros, but I don’t know how anyone can speculate on specific cards based on what limited information we have, so I won’t lend any credence to it. Duress is fine, and it’s a welcome return for another year.

Festering Newt

Festering NewtThis is bordering on unplayable without the Bogbrew Witch, as Festering Goblin never really took off. The ability is fine, if a little underwhelming, but with the Witch, it becomes downright nasty.

This creates a pseudo combo deck, as we’ve got these, and a sac outlet in Blood Bairn as well as the Witch, and the good news is; no one else is going to be picking any of these cards, as without critical mass, they’re pretty bad, and they don’t function particularly well without the other pieces. Should you see the pieces, I’d advise you to go for it, as any synergies such as these are few and far between in Core Set Limited.

Gnawing Zombie

Were this a 2/2, it might be worthwhile, but sadly, at 1/3, it’s not up to scratch. It’s fine, I suppose as a mana sink in the very late game, and as a way to break board stalls and get some value out of chump blockers, but it’s a big mana investment on an otherwise unimpressive body.

Grim Return

Yuck. This is particularly bad. It’s easy enough to telegraph this, but as a rare, people won’t play around it, which is nice. Any Constructed deck wants to sneak out its big dumb monsters through means other than actually casting them first, so it’s a very poor man’s Flicker effect, essentially. It’s essentially like a Restoration Angel with which you can actually trade with their guy, rather than removing it from combat, but minus the rest of the utility. No thanks.

Lifebane Zombie

Lifebane ZombieThe rare anti-enemy colour cycle continues with this, and I suppose it’s about on par with the rest. It’s hard to get excited, as typically, Green and White cards aren’t the ones you care about. It eats Sphinx’s Revelation and Supreme Verdict, I suppose, which is nice. I’m not overly impressed by this, but I think I’m probably being too harsh, and this sees play in non-white decks that might have made use of Sin Collector, like Jund, for example, though obviously only in the board.

Liliana of the Dark Realms

This saw far less play than I expected it would, given the introduction of the shocklands into the formats. Possibly post rotation, where Ravnica is the dominant block, Big lilly will get a chance to shine. We can but hope.

Obviously Planeswalkers are nutty in limited, and this is no different. This should be a strong pull into a mostly Black strategy, as some many Core Set cards end up being.

Liliana’s Reaver

Clear the way for the Geist is a tempo based archetype in Modern that basically combines Geist of Saint Traft with removal spells and burn spells to get the Geist to connect repeatedly. This is very much in the same vein, though at rare, it’s going to be much worse than the previously £30 and up Geist.

It’s fine, I suppose, and the precedent has been set. Sadly, this isn’t quite as good, though the fact that the up front body is bigger is pleasant. I’d expect this to see a decent amount of play in aggressive Black decks, but not to be as format warping as our friend Saint Traft.

Limited wise, it’s a good size, and has an ability that’s all upside. Very strong, and worth checking to see if you can support it in Sealed.

Liturgy of Blood

Liturgy of BloodI’m not sure how to rate this. It’s obviously not Constructed playable, and I’ve paid five mana straight up to kill a creature before. I think this is probably tier two removal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up being quite a high pick. No restrictions on what’s dying is pretty nice.

Mark of the Vampire

I initially rubbished this last time around, but it ended up being pretty good. I’m not going to make the same mistake again. This is better than it looks, and is well worth playing. Slap it on any guy, evasive or otherwise, and go to town.

Mind Rot

Reverse Divination is always fine, and sees play. I liked it better when it had a Lightning Bolt stapled to it and was called Blightning a lot better, but again, we get what we’re given, and we have to make do. Mind Rot is pretty much a Core Set staple, and I’d be surprised if we see one that doesn’t have it in the near future.

Minotaur Abomination

This seems like an obvious Theros plant, given its apparent mythology based feel. That said, I hope the Theros cards are better than this, because it’s really not very good, is it?


This is one of my favourite cards. Back when I was a young’un, I played mono-Black in Shandalar (remember that?), and Nightmare was my favourite card by miles. When I replayed it a few years ago, I used my modern knowledge and built obnoxious combo decks featuring multiple Contract from Below and Black Lotuses to power through my deck to cast multiple Erg Raiders and Hypnotic Specters on turn one. Nostalgia, eh?

Nightwing Shade

This is a limited mana sink, and nothing more. It’s one of the better ones, as evasion is always welcome, but don’t expect it to do too much heavy lifting on its own, as it’s a hell of an investment in both mana and time to get this to do any significant amount of damage.

Quag Sickness

This never made the leap into Constructed, in spite of being very solid in Limited. I don’t see it being any different this time than it was in M10. I see this as yet another pull into a mono or mostly Black strategy, though this suffers more splash damage that Corrupt, say, as it’s still reasonable as a way to answer X/1’s and X/2’s, semi reliably.

Rise of the Dark Realms

Rise of the Dark RealmsYeah, I’m sure I’m going to lose a game at some point to a guy that’s trying to make this work, and I’m sure I’ll be pretty pleased about it too, because it’s just the sort of the thing that appeals to my inner geek, but I don’t see this seeing any widespread play. It’s far too expensive for any serious discussions, and the hoops it requires you to jump through are pretty prohibitive.

I might experiment with this as a one of in my Esper deck, as those are pretty fond of killing everything and stalling for time, and this would be a reasonable finisher, but as it stands, in that deck, I don’t like devoting spell slots to the kill, so I don’t expect it’ll last for long.

Sanguine Bond

Someone told me this was a £5 card, and I have no idea why. I’ve literally never seen anyone cast this in any context. At least this printing will annihilate that residual value, and I’m sure I’ll continue to be oblivious to the cards existence.

Sengir Vampire

More nostalgia. It’s a total limited bomb, for sure, and is one of the more iconic creatures of the early days of Magic, so it’s always going to be pleasant to revisit history, but it’s not stacked up particularly well against the new crop of standard playable cards. I’d be surprised to see this in any but the most ardent Twilight fan’s decks over the next year.

Shadowborn Apostle

This will not work. Even if we warp our deck around it, we’d still need to have a Demon which colded the entire format, which just isn’t the case. Sure Griselbrand is good, but if there’s no follow up other than another stream of stupid 1/1’s for one, we’re not really making any headway, are we? I think this is one best left alone, in every context.

Shadowborn Demon

Shadowborn DemonThis is nice as a pseudo Doom Blade, but the drawback makes it untenable for serious constructed play. There’s a certain omnipresent Angel that does everything that this does, without a drawback, and for that reason, I think it’ll be resigned to Limited tables only, where it’ll do a solid job as an Abyss for a few turns, before finishing off the opponent.

Very few things stack up to this favourably, and it’ll quickly become impossible to contain.


Kills swarms of X/1’s, and makes combat difficult for the opponent. This is the stuff Limited tricks are made of. It’s not good enough for constructed, but it’s solid in Limited. I wouldn’t want more than one, but at common, it’ll be easy enough to get your hands on one if you want it.

Syphon Sliver

As previously stated, I expect the Sliver decks to be Naya coloured. This is a potential sideboard card though, assuming we’ve got Cavern of Souls to play with. It’s obviously fine in limited, in pairing with other coloured Slivers, but as a Rare, we’re unlikely to get multiples, and the rest of the colours don’t really have a huge number of them either, so it’s unlikely to get up to anything more than solid.

In any case, a 2/2 with lifelink for three is going to be fine, especially in underpowered Core Sets, and I’m probably wanting these slivers to be better than they have any right to be for nostalgia’s sake, which is a dangerous position to take.

Tenacious Dead

I was a fan of Restless Skeleton, and this is similar enough. It’s a shame that this doesn’t give you any control of when it comes back, and basically demands you hold mana up at all times if you want to protect it. It’s certainly an interesting card, though I’m inclined to think it’s too low impact to be worth a card in any format.

Undead Minotaur

More Theros plants. More limited curve fillers. Mooooving on (Get it; cos it’s a cow?)

Vampire Warlord

Vampire WarlordWhat an awesome Core Set name. More Sacrifice abilities, which is a good thing. Sac a creature, do a thing is one of the least explored design spaces in Magic, and while :Regenerate isn’t exactly the most original, it’s still refreshing to see it getting somewhat pushed in recent sets. It’s just too expensive for Constructed play, but with Act of Treason reprinted at common, we could see a return of the popular Steal and Sac archetype from a previous Core Set (M11, I think??), which would be nice.

Vile Rebirth

I thought this would see play. I also thought Cremate would. Sadly, there are better Graveyard hate cards available, and given that this is already in Standard, it’s unlikely to make much difference post rotation, when the Graveyard centric stuff rotates out.

Wring Flesh

This was fine, in days gone by, but it was replaced entirely by Tragic Slip when that materialised, so I’d expect it to lie low until rotation, when it might rear its head again. This was always a fine card, just Tragic Slip was better.

Xathrid Necromancer

This card, I actually like. I doubt there’ll be enough Humans in most decks to trigger it reliably, but in a BW token strategy, with Blood Artists and Gather the Townsfolk etc, it might actually be ok.

I think it’s probably a pipe dream, as it does demand you build your deck around it, and the payoff is marginal at best. I’ll be interested to experiment with the card, to see if it’s actually any good or not, which is pretty much the best thing a Magic card can hope to do – pique interest.

Preorder M14

Top 5 Cards I’m interested in for Constructed:-

Doom Blade M141. Doom Blade
2. Lifebane Zombie
3. Liliana of the Dark Realms
4. Xathrid Necromancer
5. Blood Bairn

Top 5 Limited Commons:-

1. Doom Blade
2. Quag Sickness
3. Liturgy of Blood
4. Blood Bairn
5. Mark of the Vampire

Stay classy folks, and we’ll burn our way through the Red cards next time.



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