How Dark Ritual Is Killing Black Today
But for all the accolades, black’s been typecast since then. You might not have noticed, but the best black spells are far blacker than any other color gets its spells. Black’s recent flagship spells continue to cost a silly amount of black mana, which would be fine except that there’s no Dark Ritual. As a result, black’s been put in a strange spot where it has great difficulty playing with other colors. My take on it is that Dark Ritual has fueled too much nostalgia of
I realize this is a leftfield complaint initially, but hear me out, and you might agree with me.
Some Statistics You’d Have No Cause to Know
On the other side of the equation, many iconic cards had color-intensive mana costs. White had Personal Incarnation at
Four black-heavy spells versus two for white and green doesn’t sound like much of a difference on the surface. But it’s played out through Magic history. Each color’s number of spells with at least a triple-color commitment:
- White – 49
- Blue – 55
- Black – 94
- Red – 59
- Green – 68
Or for a smaller focus, the number of spells that cost exactly 3 of the same colored mana, listing all of those spells designed in the Modern era:
– 8 (Devout Lightcaster, Opal Guardian) – 8 (Sanity Grinding) – 24 (Bridge from Below, Garza's Assassin, Geralf's Messenger, Kuon, Ogre Ascendant, Phylactery Lich, Phyrexian Etchings, and Sadistic Sacrament) – 9 (War Elemental and Flamebreak) – 7 (Groundbreaker, Leatherback Baloth, Predator Ooze, and Unyaro Bees)
Roughly, black gets as many color-intensive early spells as the other colors combined. These days, green’s fatties tend to need a lot of
So Why Is Black Special?
Basically, what white cards are mega-white are the holy counterparts to mega-black—Griselbrand has Avacyn, while Phage the Untouchable has Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Devout Lightcaster is
But if ease-of-flavor portrayal is development’s problem, neither development nor creative is working properly. Yes,
Is that a blessing or a curse for black? I’d call it a curse, largely because mono-colored or nearly mono-colored decks rarely have enough angles of attack to make up for their consistency. The Scars of Mirrodin block has given everyone enough artifacts and Phyrexian mana to compensate somewhat, but when those aren’t there, black’s best cards are unplayable outside a mono-black deck.
Black’s already disadvantaged in modern Magic. It can’t get rid of artifacts, enchantments, or planeswalkers efficiently unless they’re in the opponent’s hand, and it currently isn’t great at getting rid of lands. Are those great tradeoffs for getting to play a few awesome spells on time? So far: No.
None of this is to say Dark Ritual should be reprinted—far from it. Dark Ritual has enabled too much degeneracy over the years. But a long-gone card created so much of black’s identity—and just as importantly created a demographic that loves those cards—that in a lot of recent sets, black’s best cards have underperformed at the highest levels due to tough mana costs. There’s no inherent reason that black spells should be more difficult to cast than other colors’ spells; a better balance would enable more effective splashes to shore up deficiencies—that is: what the other colors do more easily.
Is M13 Helping?
The only triple-black costs in Magic 2013 are on reprints Phylactery Lich (a good example of the Dark Ritual nostalgia issue) and Vampire Nocturnus. Thankfully, the cards encouraging you to play black this set are more like Nocturnus than Lich. For starters, Nocturnus is good at almost every stage of the game, putting it more in line with Massacre Wurm than Geralf's Messenger. For enders, Vampire Nocturnus encourages black cards more than black mana.
The Swamps-matter theme of Magic 2013 continues in this vein (joining Vein Drinker, perhaps). Yes, you’ll still be playing mostly black, but the ability to splash another color is vital. U/B Zombies in Standard hasn’t always played blue Zombies; it’s just used blue for Phantasmal Image, Mana Leak, and similar support. Similarly, B/R Zombies isn’t running red Zombies because there aren’t any; the color is just to give support to all the awesome black cards.
Similarly, the reprinted Mutilate is devastating when it’s counting all your lands, but it will still be an effective board wipe in a deck in which most of your lands are Swamps. Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis couldn’t cost
On the flipside, there are several interesting triple-costers in Magic 2013 for other colors. Omniscience is as blue an effect and flavor as it comes, while Worldfire’s the same for red. Elderscale Wurm is a mixture of red and white abilities, so it doesn’t feel entirely green, but the execution feels green enough to be all right with
I understand the love for Dark Ritual and evil-feeling cards. It’s a major part of Magic history. But if the card’s only legacy in 2012 is to create cool cards that are difficult to play relative to other colors, that legacy actively is hurting black. Nostalgia’s great, but not at the expense of playability.
Black’s color commitments should be about the same as other colors’ commitments. Magic isn’t conceptualized as a game of good versus evil; the color pie catalyzes several philosophies that are fundamental to game functions. Designers and developers recognize this for four colors. It’s time to forget about Dark Ritual and include black in modern costing.