Hi everyone, and welcome back to our monthly journey on building a multiplayer cube. Today it’s time to look at my cube’s black section as an example! You can catch up on the rest of the series so far by looking back at the white and blue articles. But for now, let’s forge into black…
The Black Section
Firstly, here’s what my multiplayer cube’s black section currently looks like:
Black has one big mono-colored archetype here – Zombie Tribal. You can see this straight away in the presence of the tribal lords in Lord of the Accursed, Lord of the Undead and Death Baron. Also in here because of how they play with Zombies (or because of their own Zombie-ness) are Cryptbreaker, Wight of Precinct Six, Ghoulcaller Gisa, Liliana, Death’s Majesty, Grave Betrayal and Army of the Damned. That’s nine strong cards and most of the top-end black spells, all tempting you to give this a shot. In a 360-card cube, 11-12 decent cards make an archetype, and you’ll find a couple more decent Zombies out in the multicolor section to tip you over this mark.
As mentioned back in our white article, we are running an Orzhov Bleeder archetype as well in the cube. The black side of this archetype sees us running Zulaport Cutthroat, Crypt Ghast, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Kokusho, the Evening Star and Pontiff of Blight. Most of these guys are basically walk-up starts for a black multiplayer cube anyway, so the fact that they fall into an archetype as well is somewhat of a happy coincidence. If you have them, run them, even if you don’t have a bleeder archetype.
Finally, white runs a Knight Tribal archetype, and one card here shares the creature type – the easily splashable Midnight Reaper. It also happens to be a Zombie for our Zombie Tribal archetype above, so it’s a pretty gorgeous fit for us in this cube in particular.
So that’s 16 of our 45 black cards. Why are the rest here? Let’s talk about it!
Nezumi Graverobber is a sneakily-good reanimator that can target other people’s graveyards. In multiplayer, it has more graveyards to target, so it’s easier to find that one player with a single fetch in their yard. I have seen the Graverobber cast on Turn 2 and flipped on Turn 3 repeatedly. If it’s not dealt with before Turn 5, it’s usually impacting the game. For a two-drop in this format, you can’t ask too much more.
Pack Rat was a headline card during Return to Ravnica, particularly in RTR Limited. It is an absolutely nuts Limited card, even here. Even if someone has just swept the board, you can still just pitch cards to the Rat and ride it to victory. The kicker is that in Cube, you can throw in enough reanimation to even make the pitching an advantage instead of a drawback. This leaves your opponent wondering whether the bigger threat is the Pack Rat itself or what you’re about to pitch to it, and can often cause them to make bad choices around it. All hallmarks of a great card in this format.
Bone Shredder is one of the lesser-known 187 creatures out there. Why this one? It’s CMC3 and easily killable, meaning if you have ways of getting it back, it’s easy to recast again, it’s easy to get under Mimic Vat, and it’s BFFs with Sun Titan. It’s also a flying blocker in your time of need. All of these things tend to put it ahead of similar creatures like Nekrataal or Dark Hatchling.
Coffin Queen is an old-school reanimator card that actually secretly also counts as a Zombie these days. It’s better than most creatures like this, in that it can hit opponents’ graveyards and activates at instant speed (giving you a lot of unexpected combat tricks if people haven’t been watching graveyard contents closely – I had an opponent attack me once with Wurmcoil Engine and Steel Hellkite while I had this untapped… and I promptly flashed Acidic Slime out of someone else’s graveyard to deal with both threats for three mana). The fact that it exiles the reanimated creature if it untaps or dies is also a sneaky trick – you can use this to exile threats out of the game from your opponents’ graveyards by activating on your opponent’s end step and then choosing to untap at the start of your own turn. The Queen is still surprisingly cheap for what she does at the moment… I’d get onto it, as she won’t stay under $10 forever.
Royal Assassin is a creature remover that never goes out of style. He’s surprisingly effective as a rattlesnake in this format – opponents will either waste a removal spell on him, or leave you well alone if you’ve managed to untap with him. There are probably a couple more powerful options at this CC nowadays, but we haven’t had reason to drop him yet.
Vampire Nighthawk is a classic, even at this level of cube insanity. Batman remains a fantastic rattlesnake and defensive creature. People will not attack into it, and will waste removal on it. And if you can swing with it, the life swing is real (especially when you start handing it equipment).
Brutal Hordechief is here mostly for the Orzhov Bleeder archetype – it’s especially good next to some of the token strategies that white and black are running too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the secondary ability activated, but I can certainly think of some situations where it would be.
Disciple of Bolas is a Commander favorite in black, and remains so here. It’s especially good next to effects that steal other players’ largest creature. I’ve seen someone nearly deck themselves out with it after stealing a Kalonian Hydra for the turn and choosing to sacrifice it.
Fate Unraveler is secret tech for cubes that like to play two-headed giant, emperor or team games. It’s inocuous by itself, but, like Serra Ascendant before it, it lights up when you’re playing in teams. Copy multiple times for a quick game.
Gonti, Lord of Luxury is a card we threw in for a bit of fun when Kaladesh came out. I drafted it myself the first time it was included in the 360… and it promptly ripped the Snapcaster Mage off the top the control player’s deck… and then let me counterspell their next move. He’s in for a while now after that!
Thallid Soothsayer is a recent addition that’s here to help Aristocrats-style decks. In longer multiplayer games, these decks can tend to run out of juice a bit – especially given the limited card pool. We were lacking a good sacrifice outlet or two as well. This guy solves two problems with one card.
Chainer, Dementia Master is one of the few survivors from the original 360, and isn’t showing signs of slowing down. He’s got a very color-intensive casting cost and activation, but he’s worth it – he gives us instant activation, multiple activations in a turn, and the addition of turning the creatures black (so they’re essentially harder to remove, given Bone Shredder, Shriekmaw and several other things can no longer touch them). He’s won the game in our playgroup before by bringing the three nastiest creatures back from graveyards in an opponent’s end step and then swinging for the victory.
Shriekmaw is a classic, and possibly the best 187 creature in print. It’s the easist to cast at a pinch, given you can evoke it. It’s an underrated and evasive body if you play it for its full cost. And it’s even got a creature type that is at times relevant.
Sidisi, Undead Vizier is a Zombie, a sacrifice outlet, a tutor and a horrible creature that no-one wants to block and/or leave unblocked, all rolled into one nasty body. There’s a reason this has been climbing towards the $10 mark thanks to Commander play – it’s very versatile and very good. You’ve usually tutored for one of the best cards in your deck – that card usually gets removed when you play it. But as that’s happening, Sidisi is being neglected. And usually then gets to swing for four unblocked damage. Or more, if you have a Zombie lord out.
Grave Titan is Grave Titan. It remains an incredible creature that is a big problem to deal with. Coupled with the fact that the tokens it spews out are a relevant creature type in this cube, and it just gets worse.
Noxious Gearhulk is the third and final black 187 creature in this cube. It’s the hardest to cast, but it’s also the swingiest. It plays into the Orzhov Bleeder archetype with the lifegain, and then starts throwing its evasive weight around once it starts attacking. The fact that it’s an artifact has been both a blessing and a curse – it means it can be removed by things like Acidic Slime, but also that it triggers things that care about artifacts (come on down, Master Transmuter).
Tortured Existence has lasted all this time by being a wonderful piece of utility. Black cares about always having the nastiest creatures available to play, be they dead or not. This card lets you play around the contents of your hand. Got a reanimation spell? Fantastic! Throw your nastiest creature into the yard, and then get it into play. Someone killed your best creature? Fine, throw out a 1CMC dude and get it back. Someone’s played something horrible across the table? Throw out a creature to get Bone Shredder back in case of emergency. It’s a lot of utility for a single mana in this color!
Tragic Slip is easily the best 1CMC black removal spell in this format – it deals with indestructible tentactle monsters in ways other spells cannot. And it also gives us 100% more tragic banana peel accident jokes!
Go For the Throat is just about the best CMC2 removal spell we can put here. We used to have too many, and black got a little bit ridiculous with the amount of removal it had. So we’ve cut this slot down to a single option.
Beseech the Queen is an underrated tutor. I can probably count on one hand the number of times the CMC limitation has mattered. You need at least three lands to cast this, and you can usually find a pretty good solution in a cube at CMC3 and down.
Haunted Crossroads is here because Recurring Nightmare got banned out of the cube, basically! It’s still a pretty decent budget alternative – when added to repeated card advantage like Phyrexian Arena, it’s pulling back a Shriekmaw every turn, or something else similarly horrible.
Hero’s Downfall came into the cube as a removal spell once we started adding a significant-enough number of planeswalkers. It’s now at “don’t leave home without it” status, and is pretty much always decked.
Mastermind’s Acquisition is here because we had Diabolic Tutor in as a budget tutor from the very beginning, and this is strictly better. There are numerous ways you can use this card in a cube – do you only allow searching the player’s own sideboard of drafted cards? Do you let them pick anything that they happened to bring along on the night? At the moment, our house rule is that this lets you pick through whatever was left in the cube box for the night (given we have a 40-card Commander section we can draft, a Lore Seeker booster that might not get used, a 15-card Conspiracy booster that we only use occasionally… there’s always something in there).
Syphon Mind remains a ruthlessly efficient card advantage spell for four mana. It doesn’t always play nicely with friends (if you’re in a team game, this can put your teammates off side, given it forces them to discard too), but it most certainly fills your hand and empties your opponents’.
Whip of Erebos is here partially for the Orzhov Bleeder archetype again, but it’s a sneakily good piece of artifact. I haven’t personally seen the unearth function used very much (which isn’t that surprising in a cube that’s also running Coffin Queen and Chainer, Dementia Master), but the lifelink matters. Handing it to all of your creatures turns out to be a bigger life swing than you realise, and can often put you out of reach without much effort.
Beacon of Unrest is the other main reanimation spell in the cube next to Animate Dead, chosen specifically to make people work harder at playing Reanimator. While this is obviously much slower, it’s also repeatable and hits artifacts as well. It’s the repeatability that makes this worthwhile, and it’s decked often, despite its higher casting cost.
Dictate of Erebos is the payoff for the sacrifice outlets in this color. It will employ crowd control on the other side of the table without affecting your teammates (like Grave Pact does). There are enough payoffs for it in black alone, but it also teams surprisingly well with red (particularly in this cube, next to Feldon of the Third Path, Siege-Gang Commander and Pia and Kiran Nalaar, among others).
Yawgmoth’s Bargain is here because it’s slightly less out of hand than Necropotence. But it still wins games. I’ve seen someone get down to this and Red Sun’s Zenith in a game before – not decking out because the Zenith shuffled back into the empty library, and then getting recast for a lot of damage each turn (and yes, they won). It remains ridiculously good card advantage. If you have this, Necropotence, or even Phyrexian Arena, run it – you won’t be disappointed.
Starting with a Budget
The nice thing about black in multiplayer is that it’s possible to build a very powerful deck (and indeed a very powerful cube section) without having to go completely overboard on the price. Only five of the cards we’ve talked about above are over the $10 mark at the time of writing, and the majority of those are only just over. The best thing is that they are all easily replaceable with more budget options.
Ghoulcaller Gisa is really only even above $10 due to scarcity. She’s a wonderful sacrifice outlet, and works here because she deals with Zombies as well. As fantastic as she is, she’s easily replaceable. While not churning out the huge amount of fodder that Gisa does, Phyrexian Plaguelord is a well-loved (and much more budget) alternative sacrifice outlet at the same casting cost. Ironically, the Plaguelord was in earlier iterations of this cube, and may have even been replaced by Gisa.
Kokusho, the Evening Star is on this list by the barest of margins (the Iconic Masters copy is sitting at $10.08 as I type). There are quite a few budget cards you could replace the Kookie Monster with, but the Commander 2018 card Thieving Amalgam is probably the best mix of large finisher and bleeder. Plus it’s an Ape Snake. What’s not to love? Past iterations of the cube have also run Netherborn Phalanx and Scythe Specter in this slot, and they’ve both got their uses as well.
Lord of the Undead is one of our Zombie Tribal lords, so he’s really only here as part of an archetype. There are any number of things you could run here in its place. If you really wanted to stick with Zombie Tribal, we ran Undead Warchief in this cube for a long, long time, and it’s still well under budget.
Grave Titan is a wonderful card that has only recently gone the full spike over $10. You could use just about anything here as an angry finisher in its place. Overseer of the Damned, Harvester of Souls, Visara the Dreadful… there are plenty of options.
Liliana, Death’s Majesty is really only our black planeswalker of choice because she plays so nicely with Zombies. You could even move to Liliana, Untouched by Death as a budget option if you really wanted to maintain the Zombie Tribal facade here. In reality, this slot was Liliana Vess pre-Amonkhet, and Wild Wild Vess remains a good option – she’s basically good for two consecutive tutors.
Wrapping Things Up
I hope that gives you a little taste of what a fun (and somewhat budget) black multiplayer cube section looks like, and that it stirs something within the filthy mono-black control players amongst us! I’ll return next month as we turn things red during the festive season!
Martin first caught the Magic: the Gathering bug at university in Australia in 1995, just as Fourth Edition was released (naturally just missing the era of opening dual lands in booster packs). One degree, career, marriage and two kids later, he is still slinging cards across a kitchen table with friends and is spreading the infection to the next generation via cube, EDH and multiplayer formats.