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Midnight Magic: Suicide Black
By Graeme Taylor

Recently there was a 7th Spoiler posted here at the CPA. It looked as though Black might be quite good, with an interesting mix of discard or fast kill, as you'd expect from Rath cycle black (even without shadow). However, there was one glaring omission - No Dark Ritual! I pointed this out on the thread and it was generally agreed that black just needs Ritual or it isn't competitive enough. Hence, despite some great fast black stuff in the new T2, it just wouldn't be viable to go Sui-Black once Masques rotates, taking Ritual with it, possibly for good.

Of course, the reason Ritual probably isn't being reprinted is its current status as banned in Extended. That only leaves Type 1 -- and when was the last time you found a type 1 tournament?

Thus, the only place you're likely to get to play Sui-Black is in casual games. In a group such as the one I play in, we don't much care about banned and restricted lists, mainly because none of us has so much as a ninth of the Power Nine. Think of it as Type 1 without the dollar signs.

Of course, any deck with "Suicide" in the title is unlikely to be amazingly successful in a melee. However, not all casual play is big games anymore. Quite often, if you drop out of a big game early, you'll have a chance for a duel before the next one shows up. Certain formats are great for a speedy black deck. It's perfect as a general's deck for Emperor and will certainly go out in style in a big team game or attack left.

So I was already considering writing about suicide black from a casual viewpoint when I found this excellent article on Beyond Dominia about White Weenie {oh, you found it, did you? -- CT). Although I doubt this article will reach the epic proportions of Rakso's offering, I hope it will carry out a similar role, serving as an introduction to the deck archetype and providing various builds or flavours of suicide for newer and casual players. If anyone has any valuable experience with this style of deck, write in. I'm especially interested in any tournament-level decks of the past you may have piloted to victory, or of a suicide deck that wins melees.

Whew, that's a lot of talking and not a lot of deck. Best get started!



Basic Structure


A Suicide Black deck is all about its creatures. As such, fully half of the non-land cards in the deck will be creatures. In particular, you're looking for cheap, efficient creatures, regardless of their drawback. The reason black weenie decks are referred to as suicide black is that, unlike their white cousins, cheap black nasty stuff tends to hurt its controller a fair bit, too. The advantage is that they (in theory at least) are even nastier to the opponent and kill in short order, so the sacrifices you are forced to make should be tolerable; your life total is irrrelevant until it's zero.

The other advantage of Sui-Black (and other black weenie decks) is its removal. Whilst it has no big resets such as 'Geddon to control the game, cheap creature kill is abundant for black, so you should always be able to carve a way through for your creatures. Against enchantments and artifacts, black's only weapon is its speed, the most effective way to remove enchantments being to kill their controller :-) Of course, certain enchantments will make that impossible, so the whole deck needs to be geared towards speed. Enter the Ritual.

Standard Suicide Black


20-24 Creatures (no more than 3CC, high power to cost ratio and/or evasion abilities)
4 Dark Rituals
4-16 Removal Spells
4-16 'tricks'
20 Land
Total: 60 cards

In the beginning (Pre Rath Cycle): Tempo


The importance of speed has always been the defining characteristic of Suicide Black decks. With no help from the opponent, your creatures can place you on a clock. Ritualling out creatures first and second turn allowed for a swift alpha strike, but then there was a problem. With Swamp, Ritual, and a trio of cheap critters, it was easy to burn your hand out by turn 2 and be reduced to a trickle of cards with which to continue your assault. Speed alone wasn't enough. What was needed was tempo, a way to keep pilling on the pressure. Thus, it is no surprise that the king of card drawing was used: Necropotence.

Rather than the creatures themselves eating the player, the clock in a classic Suicide Black deck came from the tempo engine, Necropotence. But this could usually be offset by the ability to churn out cheap killing machines turn after turn. A typical "Necrocide" deck would feature creatures such as Erg Raiders, Knight of Stromgald, Order of the Ebon Hand and Black Knight; the last three being the darkside equivalent of White Weenie's attackers of old. Rather than Tax/Rack engines, the black deck ran Necro, and so many of it's 'tricks' would serve the role of lifegain to enable the engine to run for longer...most noticeably Drain Life, which served as creature removal, finisher, and card drawer all in one. Lake of the Dead would also be present to power up bigger Drain Lifes or to throw creatures down even faster. The ability of the deck to find a key card is further enhanced by Demonic Consultation of Vampiric Tutor. Finally, pump would take the form of cheap but efficient enchantments: Unholy Strength or Bad Moon.

Darkness Falls: Rath Cycle Suicide


When Rath Cycle arrived, Suicide Black got good. Rather than the limited protection from white, black decks gained true evasion in the form of flying and the new shadow ability. Getting 2 power for 2 mana had been the great deal of early Suicide Black decks. Now you could get 2/2's for 1 mana (Carnophage or Sarcomancy), or 2 power for 2 with flying or shadow thrown in to the bargain: Dauthi Horror, Dauthi Slayer, or Foul Imp. More two-cost bargains could be found in the form of Dauthi Warlord and one of the best removal spells around, Diabolic Edict. This, with Terror and Dark Banishing, gave black a full hand of removal to charge through. Plus, with the evasion abilities of the creatures, there were fewer things that could get in the way in the first place.

This all came at a cost though. Foul Imp and Carnophage had the unfortuante side effect of eating their controller, as could Sarcomancy if things went badly. This meant that they didn't work too well with Necro-based decks. Whereas tempo had been the issue in the old days -- ensuring that you had enough ground pounders hitting play each turn to be able to force damage through -- that was less of a concern now that the black player's minions could fly over or sneak through the shadows. Thus with enough removal to guarantee no rival shadow creatures on the other side (as a bonus, only white and blue actually had shadow creatures in the first place), the post-Rath suicide deck could manage without Necropotence.

With the last of the Rath Cycle, Exodus, the suicide theme was taken to the extreme with the printing of Hatred. Now all you needed was to get a single creature through. Then, for the small price of most of your life total, you could turn that humble 2-power creature into lethal damage. With Dark Ritual to back it up, a Hatred kill was possible turn 2 with a first-turn Carnophage; or, a safer route could be taken with shadow creatures. Hatred captured perfectly the spirit of Suicide Black: an all-or-nothing gamble that either won or lost the game that turn. A single Counterspell or Shock could ruin the strategy, but it was strong enough for "Hatred Black" to be born.

A different kind of Sacrifice: Urza's Block black


With the Artifact Cycle, the focus shifted from sacrificing your life for the cause, to that of your creatures and other permanents. With shadow being confined to Rath Cycle, Black Suicide again had to look at the ground, but fortunately had some decent aerial support. Flesh Reaver put Derelor to shame, as a 4/4 for just 2 mana, and -- despite its painful drawback -- would be enough to win a game on its own (provided it was unblocked) though often it was just needed to squeeze through some substantial damage on turn 2 or 3 rather than as a win condition on its own.

Once the Reaver got too hot to handle it could be traded in for the other star of the ground, Spined Fluke. At 5 power for 3 mana, Spined Fluke is a great deal, and its measly 1 toughness was not a problem as it came bundled with Regeneration. Thus, things were already looking good with Saga, along with the playable Skittering Skirge, a 3/2 flyer for 2 that died if you played another creature spell.


With Destiny though, things got even better. The Skirge was upgraded to the Horror, a 4/3 for 2B that sadly didn't fly, but could still carve players up well. The star of the show though, was Phyrexian Negator, a 5/5 Trampler for 3 mana, placing it perfectly into first-turn Dark Ritual territory. Its drawback is significant, but that fact that it still sees play in Extended today is a testament to its power.
Urza's Cycle also brought us the Lurking Enchantments: Evil, a 4/4 flyer for BBB and half your life; Jackals, a 3/2 for just B provided the opponent was on 10 or less life (which they should be!); and Skirge, a 3/2 flyer for 1B provided one of the opponent's creatures died...easily arranged with black. Being enchantments, they were more vulnerable against white decks, but also got on well with the skittering creatures and so sometimes made the cut.


On the pump front, we also got Twisted Experiment, which, although not Unholy Strength, could make all the difference on a lone Skirge and throw the calculations of opponents as to what was a safe play off the mark. It also doubled as handy removal for weenies.

Slowing it down: Masques Block


Sadly, Masquerade Cycle was not a great success for Sui-Black. In a deliberate move to slow the environment down, R&D made sure that all the bombs in the block were somewhat pricey: the wonderful Ascendant Evincar, able to sweep away protection from black weenies and Bad Moon your own hordes, was simply too expensive at 6 mana. The Mercenary chain was an interesting way to keep tempo going, fetching the hordes from straight out of the deck, yet was no real match for the rebel engine due to its inability to work up the chain to bigger threats later on. The only noticeables are cards with alternative casting costs or ways to play them: Avatar of Woe, which could be a bargain 6/5 with Fear for just BB, provided you could kill (or sacrfice) enough creatures; Delraich, a 6/6 trample instead of your 3 worst creatures or Nether Spirit due to its largely unkillable nature. However, the creature base in Masques tended to steer towards a slower, more control-oriented environment, rather than the all-out creature rush of Sui-Black.


Where Masques did help was in it's removal. Massacre could clear the way for your horde and gets around the classic inability to kill protection-from-black critters, plus costs nothing against black's nemesis, white. However, it is just as effective at carving through your own weenies so you need to be working with a tougher breed of creatures to prevent it's backfiring. Snuff Out is notable for being a zero mana cost Dark Banishing, with the life payment being tolerable for decks used to Hatred'ing down to single digits.

The future: Invasion Block


Invasion placed the boot firmly on the multicolour foot. Unfortunately, whereas white weenie is quite adaptable, being able to splash green for accelerated beatdown, blue for the current counter-rebel style control or even red for that little bit extra type 1 removal, Suicide Black likes its colours pure to ensure consistency. That first turn Ritual --> threats is vital to the deck's speed, and adding other colours risks not getting a Swamp, or getting cards that can't be cast off the back of a Ritual.

Despite this, when 7th comes around with the Rath Cycle goodies, there's a couple of cards that might be of use. On the pump front, Sinister Strength outdoes Twisted Experiment (though you can't kill stuff with it), whilst Diabolic Intent and Desperate Research offer a measure of control over what you get and when, though they don't stand up to Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Consultation. Do Or Die makes for interesting removal; usually you'll want to just remove half the field to force more damage through, but really it's only effective in the late game. Creature-wise, Maggot Carrier allows for a pseudo-haste effect and second-turn beats for 4 when Ritualled out first turn with a Sinister Strength. There's a lot been said about Phyrexian "Scooter," but at 4 mana it just isn't fast enough.

Summary


Sui-Black really has to look to its past, going for a Rath Cycle Hatred build, an Urza's creature-sacrifice approach or the classic Necro-beatdown, for its creature base and strategy. Of course, in casual games it's possible to mix-and-match somewhat, throwing Rath Cycle shadows into Necro decks, or mixing Rath and Urza's for an all-out aerial assault with various breeds of Imps. It's also possible to get the best in terms of pump, from Bad Moon to Twisted Experiment; and the finest cuts of removal, be it Diabolic Edict and Massacre to deal with protection and untargettables, or Terror variants to just cut a path through. The best thing about Sui-Black is that many of the key cards are quite cheap and still easily obtained, making it an ideal first deck type if you spend a lot of time duelling and want a new, faster playing experience. In a completely regulation-free environment like ours, you can throw in the king of all tutors, Demonic Tutor, or turbocharge the deck with Lotus Petals. Just don't expect anyone to play you if you start filling it up with Moxes.

Read More Articles by Graeme Taylor!

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