View Full Version : Let's talk strategy: BLACK

Unhinged Manchild
October 22nd, 2022, 01:08 AM
Continuing my series of talking power and strategy for AotP's colors, here is black! Black is pretty similar to white in my opinion; they have tons of move 5 and range 1 figures that just want to be in the opponent's face. Anyone that's played enough Heroscape probably understands that ranged units generally have an advantage over melee units (especially when those melee units are move 5...) and I think that mostly holds in AotP, which impacts white and black, making them neighbors as the worst two colors. Black is a bit heavier on auto-squad killing and has none of the creature healing and toughness buffs than white has, though. Opponents that bring lots of squads (and no heroes) are probably in for tough game against a well-played black army.

Check out this Youtube video for more of my thoughts! You can get a good, broad idea of how I feel about black by just watching the first 8 minutes!

Tier list for black's spell cards:

Best spell

Altar’s Reap (25, AoP) – Healing 4 from your VIP is extremely potent, especially if a Restless Zombie or Skirsdag Cultist is destroyed to fuel this card. A bit shameful that this doesn't heal off damage in a ratio of 1 damage per 5 spell points like Bountiful Harvest and Near-Death Experience, especially when we have to sac a creature as well, but this packs a lot of healing into one card, and I think black PWs are generally expected to carry more weight in their armies compared to other colors, so I find this card has a greater impact for black.

High (8 spells)

Bone Splinters (10, AoP) - This was nearly my choice for black's best spell, it is such a major player in black’s ability to deal with hero creatures. A major plus here is that this card makes no reference to the range or line of sight of your Planeswalker; go rush your weak zombies or cultists into combat with a high priority target (or multiple targets,) make some attack rolls against some figures, and afterward give them the... ahem, metaphorical finger... by playing this 10-point beast to inflict serious harm on a hero creature or outright kill a threatening enemy squaddie.

Rise of the Dark Realms (25, AoP) - Any deck that uses Dark Harvest and/or Blighted Reavers will probably get the best value out of this. You keep your activation quality high by keeping your entire squad on the battlefield so that you have more figures moving and attacking each turn, so undoing death should be a no-brainer. IMO RotDR is slightly more valuable to Ob Nixilis and Sorin due to their range 1 and tendency to be closer to the thick of combat – this means when RotDR resurrects their creature, that creature likely doesn’t have far to travel to re-enter engagement. Liliana might cause small headaches because she will tend to be further out from the fight, and black’s creatures only have 5 move.

Duress (15, AoP) - Considering red’s Power of Fire, which IMO is quite good, it gives a squad +1 power at 20 points; Duress is some really damn good value. It gives your squad +1 power AND the potential to make your opponent discard, all at a cheaper price! This is a kind of lockdown/control card that should be played right when you have the opening to nail your opponent’s Planeswalker with 2 or more of your squad’s attacks. If even 2 squaddies manage to slip some wounds in, Duress’ card discard function is quite snowbally and can cause your opponent to lose their best answers to the situation.

Dark Harvest (15, AoP) - Sacrificing a creature makes this a tough pill to swallow, but given some of the ways that black squad creatures can come back (mostly in RotDR and Skirsdag Indoctrination, but also Zombies’ Darkness Arises if you are in a real pinch for quick power) the sacrifice required for +3 power doesn’t seem to faze black quite as badly as it would other colors. Dark Harvest combined with Duress is a POWERFUL combo if you can get 2 or more attacks launched against an opponent Planeswalker and cause them to discard, but the best kind of enemy Planeswalker is a dead one.

Liliana’s Caress (5, AoP) - Basically 1-for-1 your opponent; your opponent discards a random card on command when you play this card. Just for the off-chance that you cause the opponent to discard a game-clinching spell, this spell seems worth it, especially at 5 points.

Corrupt (10, AoP) - This card isn’t particularly game-changing, but as a card that deals consistent 1 damage to a creature (a hero or squad critter within 5 of your PW) of your choice AND heals your PW of 1 damage, Corrupt is very splashable and efficient in oiling your black war machine.

Barter in Blood (5, SOI) - This card seems quite good at 5 points, especially because you can enchant your own heroes, which may slightly dissuade your opponent from rushing to destroy them. It can damage a PW with it’s effect, too! As a passive enchantment that requires your opponent to kill an enchanted creature in combat, there are ways to force this card to die quietly, such as damage from leaving engagement attacks, abilities, and spells, or your opponent can even ignore the enchanted figure altogether and gun for your PW. It still feels like a card that is hard to use incorrectly, and even if doesn’t correctly trigger because your opponent plays around it, it’s only 5 points!

Despise (10, AoP) - Since there should ALWAYS be an enemy Planeswalker that you are fighting against at the start of each game, it’s pretty hard to go wrong in weakening the power of that figure, especially for 10 points. Blue’s Misdirection can really twist this card against us, though, so it may be a matter of risk/analysis if you have a blue opponent.

Mid (8 spells)

Mental Agony (5, AoP) - Decent card for 5 points. Pretty similar to Liliana’s Caress, except that this is a passive squad enchantment which requires the enchanted squad to be attacked, instead of being something that just fires off when you demand it, like LC does.

Corpse Lunge (10, SOI) - This is a tough one to justify... I think it teeters distinctly between either being super good or being useless/detrimental to you. There is quite a bit of potential in this card because of the sheer amount of damage that can be inflicted by something such as the Eldrazi Ruiner or a Duress/Dark Harvest-buffed squaddie getting a double attack. However, inflicting 2 damage upon your Planeswalker feels risky, and the 4-sight range check of the card will likely be a tad annoying for Liliana. Luckily, black (AND white in Sorin’s case) has a decent amount of PW healing to offset the damage. Without having used this card much, I imagine this is one of the final cards you play before the game closes out, whether you win or lose, almost like a final gambit. CL + Dark Harvest + Rise of the Dark Realms as a game-clincher combo, anyone?

Painful Truths (20, BfZ) - The placement of this one may be mostly due to my own bias, but I love Painful Truths in tandem with Restless Zombies. The lack range/sight check from PW makes this an easy choice to just kill a zombie whenever I want 2 more cards; the zombie will likely return in 2-3 turns anyway. In black decks that don’t use Restless Zombies, this card probably takes quite a dip in usefulness. To note, Painful Truths has some synergy if you tag Sorin with the 2 damage and/or you can trigger white’s Stone Will on him, but that’s quite a specific scenario mostly due to his Vampiric Thirst healing, and I would personally avoid intentionally placing wounds on my PW when I could choose a creature to take the damage instead.

Killing Wave (40, AoP) - Black is definitely the color that makes you (as a potential opponent to a black army) regret bringing tons of squads; this card and Ob Nixilis are the shining examples of why you don't want to rely on range 1 squads to do your heavy lifting. IIRC this card outright kills all squads in AotP except for the Lantern Geists and/or a squad that is enchanted by white’s Spare from Evil, just be careful about the position of your own non-zombie squads! Like RotDR, this one is probably slightly more useful for Ob Nixilis or Sorin, because they will likely find themselves walking into the thick of the fight anyway, where Liliana would probably prefer to keep her distance and potential high ground. Ob Nixilis’ flying makes it very easy for him to find a comfy spot to use KW. Nabbing as many as 2 out of 3 creatures of a squad with this card is often enough to completely gimp that squad and heavily nullify the threat that was presented by that squad. However, against heroes-only builds, this is 100% a 40-point dud, only offering you the potential of IRL paper cuts. The hero creature issue is the primary reason why it places middle of the road instead of higher on the list, because it is a fantastic card outside of that.

Ever After (20, SOI) - Another dead-in-hand card if your opponent runs a heroes-only army, and another reason why you don’t want to bring squads against black. Once again, similar to RotDR, this card is likely preferred by Ob Nixilis and Sorin because of how close they will be to the fight, which should more easily enable any Ever After squaddie to do its job in moving toward and attacking the highest value target.

Strangling Soot (15, AoP) - Are you seeing the recurring theme yet? Black very easily makes you regret bringing squads, but black also tends to struggle against heroes. Yet another dead card when against heroes, Strangling Soot basically completely flips the tables on your opponent when they thought their squaddie was going to attack and kill yours. For 15 points, pretty good, but against heroes, just a total waste.

Creeping Dread (25, SOI) - A slow poison against a squad and (I hate to sound like a broken record) one more for the pile of “useless against hero decks.” I don’t have much experience with this one, but in general I think causing your opponent to discard can be game-changing on occasion, so it’s gotta be decent enough when enemy squads are involved, right? 25 is a bit steep, though.

Crippling Blight (25, AoP) - Another squad hate card that is a dead draw against heroes-only; I’m not very convinced that this is worth 25 points. Perhaps as anti-kessig tech it’s not bad, but 25 points is still steep for a card that might just cause your opponent to buff their next squad/hero and kill you with that one instead.

Low (3 spells)

Demonic Appetite (20, BfZ) – Another card added to our firewood pile when heroes-only armies show up. A passive enchantment that awaits the death of your creatures, it’s also a consolation prize at best; your creature died so your opponent discards a card. DA does nothing against hero armies, and is useless when your opponent has no cards in hand. Good luck coming back from losing your creatures in combat, because I don’t think this card is providing much in return for that loss. While I do believe discard effects can be very useful, this one might have too many issues for 20 points.

Behold the Beyond (15, SOI) - I’m not too much a fan of forcing oneself to discard in AotP especially due to the small deck size of 12; every card seems to count. If you are discarding more than 1 card via Behold the Beyond, IMO you are not coming out on top of that interaction, especially in the long term. I acknowledge that there are certainly instances where pulling 3 brand new cards (especially if you have 0-1 cards in hand after playing BtB) could get you the game-winning move or put you in a strong position to win on your next turn, but discarding too much up front seems very detrimental if you can’t win the game in your next 1-2 turns.

Harrowing Journey (25, SOI) - This card honestly sounds pretty cool and flexible in theory, but it feels as if it’s not making much of a difference for what it does at cost 25. In reverse of what black usually does, this card targets heroes only, and is useless against squads. You can choose to tag one of your heroes with it, or an enemy hero with it. Just remember that the +3 move and the 1 damage per hero turn is all part of the package. Perhaps this is the anti-enemy-hero tech that black needed all along and I just haven’t fully realized it yet, but having a strong hero with +3 move chasing my PW around doesn’t exactly sound like a good compromise for that 1 damage per turn.

Worst spell

Virulent Swipe (40, BfZ) - To no one’s surprise, the lowest card in black effects squad-on-squad combat only, and is a massive dead draw against a hero army. Just... eww. VS seems to have a high probability of feels bad moments on any squad that isn’t the Blighted Reavers or the Malakir Bloodchasers, and I’m not sure I want to inflict wounds on my Reavers just for one turn of “license to kill” mode against enemy squads (for those of you missing my intended reference, this is a throwback to N64’s Goldeneye shooter; they had a License to Kill mode where a player dies if they take one hit/bullet/point of damage.) If you fail to get any hits through in your attack rolls with Deathtouch active, it feels terrible. While similar logic can apply to many things in AotP, does it ever come with the price of inflicting up to 3 wounds on your own squad and dumping 40 points of your deck for a single card to work on a single turn during squad-on-squad combat only?

Tier list for black's army cards:

Liliana Vess (325, AoP) – Rank 4 – Activation Frequency: Medium, ascending. Quite the savage when AoP was the only set, she and black in general have certainly felt a loss in power as BfZ and SoI sets came out. In games with lots of enemy squads, she should see more general use due to Snuff Out. Enemy hero creatures present some unique issues to black and therefore Liliana, because many of black’s spells and her Snuff Out ability are completely useless against heroes. Luckily, Liliana is the lowest costing Planeswalker, but far and away from being the weakest! She should have points available for her army to purchase good/more creatures to help her destroy heroes. As the only black figure with range greater than 1, she brings unique pressure to the table with range 6, especially for a color that utterly lacks move speed and range when compared to the other colors.

Sorin (350, SoI) – Rank 4 – Activation Frequency: Medium, ascending especially in ratio with the amount of damage on him and/or the number of weak figures remaining in his threat range. IMO 6 life is poor for a Planeswalker, and is a scary proposition for a melee-oriented one. Like the other black Planeswalkers, he is typically much better at slaying squads than heroes, especially because of his Blade Master – he likes fighting many weak figures instead of a single beefy one. Let's face it, black bends squads over with ease while folding in the face of strong heroes; this is basically black’s theme in AotP, lol. As long as he isn’t instantly bursted down in a single turn, Sorin is annoying to remove from the board because he has access to Corrupt, Near Death Experience, and Altar’s Reap for even more healing on top of his Vampiric Thirst. He can often carry the late game to a win when enemy squads and heroes are weakened and ripe to meet their demise at the end of his blade. For his mix of colors, I’m quite split - white and black actually feel way too at odds with one another. Black stuff is hilariously powerful in damaging or destroying squads (their own and their opponents’,) and black heavily prefers to be in close combat to really lay the smackdown. White generally likes homogeneous armies (read: total white domination,) healing (especially for their heroes,) but they also like being in close quarters, both with the enemy figures and with their own white clan. The overlap in preference for close quarters combat is about the only thing that makes sense for the unification of these colors, but you have conflicts between things like all non-white figures and Fell the Mighty + Honor of the Pure + Gideon’s Phalanx, or all non-zombie figures and Killing Wave... Anyway, without being able to come to a solid conclusion about if white/black is a good combination in general, I will say that Sorin + Avacyn + Ruiner is a savage all-hero army at 600 points with tons of white healing spells, even if black’s spells seem to have little use in that army due to black’s squad-oriented nature.

Ob Nixilis (385, BfZ) - Rank 3 – Activation Frequency: Medium-high. Scoring just below Sorin mostly due to being mono-black, Ob Nixilis is a very sturdy and speedy figure thanks to 8 life, 4 toughness, and flying which should also help him hold high ground. High ground combined with his base 5 power makes him a fearsome attacker when those conditions are met. Altar’s Reap and Corrupt make it that much more annoying to whittle him down. However, he is VERY expensive, his cost of 385 restricts his creature selection at 500- and 600-point army values. Black’s curse of struggling against heroes afflicts Ob, but he is fantastic at mimicking Hillary Clinton in that he can make squad figures disappear with ease with At Any Price. The ability to use At Any Price against Ob’s own Restless Zombies to fuel Ob’s card draw is a very nice perk, since the zombies can respawn with a D20 roll while we continue to take turns with Ob.

Restless Zombies (60, AoP) - Rank 4 – Activation Frequency: Low. Just looking at their stats, these guys are quite weak even at the relatively low cost of 60. Having these guys in your army actually encourages further activations of your Planeswalker, so you can take more rolls for Darkness Arises. I think the bulk of their price and utility comes from Darkness Arises, which can see them returning to the battlefield repeatedly with a bit of luck. The zombies feel very crucial for both Ob and Liliana – Ob for At Any Price self-draw fuel and for extra bodies in the melee fight, and Liliana appreciates them as respawning roadblocks to keep enemy melee figures off of her. I typically do not enchant these guys with black’s offensive buffs (Dark Harvest, Duress) unless I am VERY desperate to generate offense. 1 life and 1 toughness will not do your enchantments any favors in getting value & longevity; when their army card goes to the graveyard, all enchantments are removed and remain removed even when/if zombies respawn via Darkness Arises.

Blighted Reavers (115, AoP) - Rank 3 – Activation Frequency: Medium-high, descending. Average stats make them decent frontline fighters. Their utility and combat prowess is further elevated due to Necrotic Stench, which effectively creates auras where your figures should be dominating and destroying enemies quickly. Their cost is quite high; they are the most expensive squad army card in AotP, yet still vulnerable to basically all of the squad instakill/debilitation shenanigans of blue, white, and black. They have some particularly nice synergy with Ghoul Vanguard – not only do they get to “bond” with him, but their Necrotic Stench seriously enhances his ability to murder squad figures and trigger his Wake the Dead.

Ghoul Vanguard (100, SoI) - Rank 3 – Activation Frequency: High, but descending if no zombies remain on the battlefield for Shambling Ranks of the Dead. GV seems particularly average for a hero figure. His primary uses consist of bonding with a figure from the Reavers/Restless Zombies and generating more zombies via Wake the Dead. He has great synergy in using Shambling Ranks of the Dead to move one of the Blighted Reavers first, especially because their Necrotic Stench boosts Vanguard’s chances of slaying enemy squaddies for Wake the Dead. Sadly, he does not create zombies when he destroys squad figures via leaving engagement attacks. It’s unfortunate that “squad characteristics” has no explained definition... it is such a point of contention with this guy.

Malakir Bloodchasers (100, BfZ) - Rank 3 – Activation Frequency: High, descending. These guys are somewhat like red’s Blazing Firecats – consider their similar move, life, power, and toughness. They both even have an ability which can boost the strength of their attacks. I feel that lifelink is mostly wasted on a figure with only 2 life and 3 toughness (which I find to be on the frail side,) although this makes the Bloodchasers good recipients of Virulent Swipe, which deals one damage to each of them and then allows them to instakill any squaddies to whom they deal even 1 combat damage. These guys are highly threatening, especially if they get their grubby blades on a wounded figure – 1 auto hit and 4 attack dice will make any Planeswalker scream like a schoolgirl in complete terror.

Skirsdag Cultists (50, SoI) - Rank 2 – Activation Frequency: Medium-high, ascending. I'm not sold that these guys are better at 50 points than the Zombies are at 60. The cards are quite similar – IMO both of these are expendable pawns to be used as cannon fodder and/or fuel for other holy black activities. The primary difference is that Zombies will likely be more passive than Cultists; Zombies as a group will come back on a D20 check as long as you take some turns with your black Planeswalker, where Cultists require that you use them on your turns because they only come back if they are actively murdering squad figures in combat. When the last Cultist is destroyed, they lose the ability to bring their members back onto the field, where the zombies can only roll their ability to come back on the field after all of the restless members are destroyed. Like the zombies, I’m hesitant to enchant these guys due to their weak 2 life and 1 toughness. I’ve yet to try Dark Harvest on them – that might be quite devastating, however you still look to your opponent having squads for Indoctrination to bring the sacrificed Cultist back. Speaking of that – Cultists seem likely to be much worse in the matchups against the uncivilized heroes-only armies because they will have mostly lost their ability to Indoctrinate anything... for what the option is worth, there’s nothing noted on Indoctrination that prevents you from slaying YOUR OWN squad figures in combat to trigger it, so uhhhh, Indoctrinate your own Restless Zombies and have the zombies raise back up via the D20 later on?

Thus, I think black suffers a pretty similar fate to white as a color with low mobility, low threat range, and basically no way to even temporarily change that fate. Black really loves fighting squads; that and regenerating squads are 100% their AotP niche. However, when it comes to enemy heroes, especially white's heroes with all of the potential healing backup, too many of black's cards lose too much function for them to have a great chance of success. What do you think?