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Mercadian Masques Booster Draft Part Five

Gary Wise

Continuing my series on Mercadian Masques booster draft, the following are my rankings and thoughts on the set's black commons.

A few thoughts...

For the last two years, black has dominated straight stand alone draft, first with the strong kill and great beatdown in Rath Cycle, then with the strong kill, stronger creatures, and even stronger still Pestilence of Urza's block. Now, a new day has dawned that sees black, still sporting the best common creature elimination spells in the set, sitting low on the totem pole thanks to an anemic collection of common creatures.

When one glances at Mercadian Masques black, it's easy to point out that the Mercenaries are card advantage waiting to happen, and combined with strong cards like Snuff Out, Vendetta and Sever Soul, should be strong enough to make black dominant. Unfortunately, this isn't the case because the Mercenaries are weak individually and move the wrong way, with superior beatdown creatures fetching mediocre ones.

Black is probably strongest as a splash color, with the aforementioned Snuff out and Vendetta mixing well with other single black casting cost commons like Maggot Therapy and Undertaker to support the strong creature base of your main color. Most players I've talked to therefore prefer to play Black in tandem with Green.

The Commons

Snuff Out - The best of the common pitch spells, 4 life isn't much to pay when it means eliminating an opposing power creature without mana detriment. Fast, easy to cast and effective, Snuff Out is the best common kill spell in the set.

Vendetta - Ranking a close second, Vendetta is extremely mana efficient with its only drawback being that it becomes difficult to use when at low life, making it better suited to beatdown than control. If it had cost BB, Vendetta would still be very playable in this format.

Sever Soul - Coming in third is the poor man's Corrupt, which I would gladly pay an extra mana for if it meant I could drain my opponent. As a sorcery, Sever Soul is cumbersome, and the high casting cost doesn't help much especially considering half the time it is used to kill 1/1 spellshapers anyway, thus nullifying its lifegain component.

Maggot Therapy - I very seriously considered placing Therapy third, but its inability to deal with large creatures relegates it to fourth. While more versatile than the Soul, it very seldom gets used on one's own creatures, but gets bonus marks for its effectiveness in the black on black match up, which is often won or lost on the number of wasted black kill spells one has.

Undertaker - While every other color has two playable common spellshapers, this is black's only one. Undertaker is a bit slow for the early game, but it dominates after turn 7 or 8, allowing its controller to trade creatures regardless of strength with the knowledge they can always discard a land for them. Undertaker is especially effective with cards like Shock Troops and Highway Robber.

Deepwood Ghoul - That this 2/1is the best combat oriented common black has really says something. The Ghoul is very solid, but gets shut down by a lot of cards. Fortunately, its regeneration ability really comes in handy when combined with Crooked Scales, Puffer Extract and the like, and if you can manage to get it down with a Spidersilk Armor, it becomes a lot tougher.

Cateran Brute - It seems like it was about twenty years ago now that Brian Weissman taught the world about the strength of card advantage. Now, the Cateran Brute is the black common that best provides us that opportunity, fetching an assortment of 2/1s and 1/1s. My favorite cards to play with this are haunted Crossroads, which allow the continuous recycling of Mercenaries and Silent Assassin, which can be used as an instant creature kill effect for 6 mana.

Highway Robber - A lot of people seem pretty high on this card, but I find it mediocre. The simple fact is it's a 2/2 for 4, and once it's in play, it's difficult to find a creature to trade it for. Very strong with Undertaker, the problem with the Robber is the lack of ways to kill one's own creatures in the format, with only Renounce, Crooked Scales and Puffer Extract coming immediately to mind (I'm sure there are more).

Alley Grifter - One of the few underrated commons in Black, the Grifter is a beatdown creature who gives opponents a surprising amount of trouble, especially if they're trying to control the game with Spellshapers.

Cateran Persuader - While pretty bad on its own, the Persuader ranks this high in the hopes it's played in the same deck as a Cateran Brute, some other Mercenary searcher type or a Harpy, the one decent creature it can search for. If you don't have anything of the sort and you're playing Persuaders, you're in for a long day.

Bog Smugglers - A very important card in the mirror match, the more black kill spells you draft, the higher these go in value. This is because you'll have a number of dead cards in the black on black match up, and barring Maggot Therapy, these guys are often an auto win in that particular showdown.

Wall of Distortion - One of those cards that no one wants in their deck but everyone is willing to play, these become a lot better against control oriented decks which seek to control with Spellshapers. Against beatdown? Well...4 mana is a lot to pay for a 1/3 wall.

Skulking Fugitive - Like the Bog Smugglers, this goes up in value with the more black you play simply because they are very strong in the mirror match, with black having relatively little to target with.

Misshapen Fiend - I really hate playing this card, but it seems like anytime I play against someone with a Cateran Brute, they have these guys too. Most effective when used to kill Rishadan Airship and Thermal Glider, if you have an opportunity to trade for less, I suggest using it.

Specter's Wail - One for one isn't much of a deal, so one should usually shy away from this card. That said, it isn't too bad vs. control and if you're short on quality cards it's suitable as filler. Also, if you know your opponent has a 7-8 casting cost breaker that you are incapable of dealing with otherwise, it may be worth sideboarding in to use when they have one card in hand and 6 mana in play

Rampart Crawler - You have to be woefully short of playable cards to run this guy, but if you have a lot of ways of searching for him, he's not absolutely horrendous. This is especially true if you have Brainstorm to get him back in your deck, assuring you the opportunity to fetch rather than play him from your hand.

Insubordination - A not so horrendous sideboard card vs. Walls in control decks

Dark Ritual - There isn't much worth Ritualling out on turn one in this format, and the only black pumpers are uncommon or rare. Generally not worth the land slot it takes up.

Soul Channeling - If you have no way to stop fatties, this may buy you the needed time.

Rouse - Maybe if you have 7-8 regenerators and your opponent has 6 Silverglade Elementals you should sideboard this in.

Bog Witch - Every other 3 casting cost common spellshaper is 2/2 and this one has the most useless ability of any shaper in the environment. Do the math.

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