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Pauper Cube: Black

Written by Ezra Sassaman on . Posted in Casual Magic, Cube

Pauper Cube: Black

Ezra Sassaman

Ezra Sassaman has been playing Magic since he got a sweet Ravnica theme deck for his 12th birthday. Since then, he has been an avid follower of all aspects of the game. In his free time, he enjoys Cube-drafting with his friends in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Last week, we talked about the control-happy color blue in Pauper Cube. That means it is time for the color black to get a turn this week!

What does black want to do in Pauper Cube? As usual, I will divide this question into four sections: The Aggressive Plan, The Defensive Plan, Repeatable Effects and Card Advantage, and Black Color Pairs.

The Aggressive Plan

One classic archetype in Magic is “Suicide Black.” This strategy uses your own life total as a resource, allowing you to cast undercosted creatures and draw cards at a rapid pace if you are willing to fall to a dangerously-low life total. As the adage goes, it’s only the last point of life that matters! That means that it it fine to be at only one life if your opponent is at zero. The “Suicide Black” strategy makes for exciting, quick games, where both players try to attack each other as fast as possible. While players in Modern are using cards like Death’s Shadow and Dark Confidant for this archetype, “Greatness, at any cost” applies to commons in Pauper Cube as well. Here, you can play out cheap one-drops like Carnophage and Vampire Lacerator and start attacking! Many black creatures have a great power-to-cost ratio as well as evasion, such as Skittering Skirge and Dauthi Slayer. Black aggro decks can easily kill blockers with cards like Disfigure and Last Gasp, and attack the opponent’s resources on many more angles than aggressive red or white decks can. You can use Sinkhole to kill an opponent’s land or attack their hand with Wrench Mind and Hymn to Tourach. If your opponent stabilizes after your initial onslaught, black aggro has ways to compete into the middle and late game, using cards like Stab Wound and Gray Merchant of Asphodel to rob your opponent of their final few life points.

The Defensive Plan

While going after your opponent’s life total immediately is certainly appealing to some, you might prefer to sit back, stop all your opponent’s threats, draw some cards, play some lands, and finish out the game in a slow and steady fashion. If you are a fan of this strategy, black does not disappoint! Just protect your life total with a flurry of removal spells in the early game and use effects like Abyssal Gatekeeper and Innocent Blood to keep your opponent’s board clear. While many black creatures can simply attack your opponent’s life total, others can attack your opponent’s hand. Use your removal spells to push through with Okiba-Gang Shinobi, the anti-Ninja of the Deep Hours! (and if you Ninjutsu a Chittering Rats back to your hand, you get extra style points for making your opponent’s hand go away AND Rat synergies). Meanwhile, you can comfortably fill your hand with cards like Night’s Whisper and Phyrexian Rager, gaining card advantage in typical control deck style. Once you make it to the late game, you can use a huge Corrupt or big Delve creatures like Sultai Scavenger and Gurmag Angler to close out the game.

Repeatable Effects and Card Advantage

When it comes to card advantage and recursive threats in Pauper, black can go toe-to-toe with any other color in the game. Many of black’s creatures have built-in two-for-ones: just look at Liliana’s Specter, Phrexian Rager, and Wakedancer. These creatures with enters-the-battlefield effects pair very well with black’s ability to get creatures back from the graveyard, like Gravedigger, Exhume, and Unearth. For a more controlling strategy, removal spells with flashback are a great way to accumulate card advantage– Crippling Fatigue and Chainer’s Edict can each trade with two of your opponent’s creatures. If you make it to the late game with an abundance of mana, cards like Evincar’s Justice and Pestilence can represent threats that repeat turn after turn. These cards can protect you from a swarm of creatures and take chunks out of your opponent’s life total as well. Because black spells often cause life loss to their own controller, it’s often important to counteract a low life total with creatures like Night Market Lookout and artifacts like Prismatic Talisman and Vault Skirge. Using a Prismatic Talisman to cast Evincar’s Justice every turn isn’t nearly as painful! Also, remember you can point a Sign in Blood at your opponent if they are at two life or less.

Black Color Pairs


Black’s one-mana creatures with two power make a great team with red’s burn spells. This color combination threatens to end the game very quickly. Black’s removal spells can easily slay blockers that are too big to kill with burn spells. While a monored deck might fall behind on cards in hand, black’s discard and draw spells can help even out this discrepancy in your favor. Black’s ability to turn life into cards is valuable for the color red, which just wants to draw as many cheap damage spells as possible. When you are dealing direct damage to your opponent, black’s tendency to harm itself is not as big a deal. In a damage race, having access to cards like Chain Lightning and Fireblast will leave your opponent dead before they have a chance to counter-attack. Another great red-black strategy revolves around the interaction between “Mr. Steal Your Card” effects like Act of Treason and sacrifice outlets like Carrion Feeder. Just use a red sorcery to swipe your opponent’s best creature, attack, then sacrifice it to your black creatures. The result is great for you! Your opponent’s best creature attacked them, then went away forever. If you gain control of your opponent’s creature for a short time, effects like Innocent Blood and Plagued Rusalka can two-for-one your opponent. A deck built in this fashion can be aggressive and still threaten to bury your opponent in card advantage.


A typical black-green strategy is “The Rock”: a solid midrange deck that pairs black’s disruption and removal with green’s big creatures and mana ramp. This style of deck is solid against any strategy and has the ability to be aggressive or defensive, depending on the matchup and the play style of its pilot. Black-green can go aggro, using pump spells to make black’s cheap evasive creatures into formidable threats. Another way to be aggressive in this color combination involves producing many tokens and using them in conjunction with Mortician Beetle, Falkenrath Aristocrat, and Golgari Rotwurm. Black-green can also operate as a more traditional control deck, using Black’s mass-removal spells like Evincar’s Justice and Pestilence to leave green fatties like Blastoderm and Nessian Asp unchallenged on the battlefield. Also, huge creatures like Walker of the Grove and Maul Splicer make recursion spells like Exhume and Gravedigger that much better. Getting a black one-mana 2/2 back from your graveyard isn’t that big of a threat, but getting back a Walker of the Grove puts huge pressure on your opponent. Much like red, green sometimes has a problem creating card advantage. But the life loss that comes from cards like Night’s Whisper is not that big of a deal when you can clog the board with mana-elves and Saproling tokens to chump-block all your opponent’s threats. Finally, black sometimes needs a lot of mana available to realize its card advantage. “The Rock” can use green cards like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Cultivate to make sure Chainer’s Edict, Corrupt and Grixis Slavedriver are used to their full potential.

Thanks for reading! See you next week when we rush right into the color red.

Ezra Sassaman

As always, feel free to comment and check out my pauper cube list.

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