Last updated on August 17, 2022
Necropotence | Illustration by Dave Kendall
Although card draw is theoretically only a secondary ability in black’s color pie, there are enough powerful black card draw effects that some might even be welcome in your 99 when paired with the card draw powerhouses (blue and green) in your Commander deck. Some of these cards are ubiquitous, and some are a bit obscure.
Let’s delve into the dark depths of black card draw and find the missing piece to accelerate your favorite EDH deck!
Sign in Blood (Magic 2010) | Illustration by Howard Lyon
Since Alpha, black has been a color of explosive mana and card draw connected to life loss. Either yours, your creatures’, or both.
That means black card draw comes at a price, which sometimes can be quite steep. Black card draw spells have to hit the right spot on the balance of consideration of curve and power. That’s true for all Magic cards, but stapling a loss of some kind onto an effect makes it all a bit more fraught.
Ready to see how your favorite black card draw spells stack up or looking for some new options for your deck?
You can get a lot of cards if you can cheat this out and give it haste. But how many cards will still be in peoples’ hands if you’re attacking with this on turn 8?
Dusk Legion Zealot probably isn’t good enough outside of its Standard or Limited environment, but I’ve been super glad for Clattering Augur in stalled Commander games when I’d pay six mana to draw a card.
This is less good later in the game, but there are worse topdecks.
#38. Cruel Bargain + Infernal Contract
Half your life is a lot. Unless your life is spiraling down the drain, in which case four cards might be what you need to get your combo going.
These cards are a good capper on the black life loss for card draw theme since this level of loss is only fringe playable. It’s right there in the names, so if you’re ready for a Cruel Bargain to make an Infernal Contract with dark forces, these are your cards.
It feels great to have this card out late, when the game has stalled a bit and everyone is topdecking. You draw. It’s…
Swamp. Now you get to draw a card or smack something. Very nice. This is pretty good if you’re mono-black with a lot of Swamps, but it screams “kill me now!” and the table will see Dread Presence as a far greater threat than it is.
That alone can be a good thing to use, but it means that you likely won’t get more than a few cards with this in the early game. And you’d rather topdeck one of the cards higher on this list in the late game.
Remember you need to play basic lands for this to work, so mono-black only.
Worst case scenario Fell Stinger exploits itself and you have a Divination that lost you two life and dropped a creature in the graveyard. That’s not amazing. But this is a lot better in a tokens deck, and it’s also a lot better in a blink or reanimation shell.
There’s build-around upside here.
This is one of the better card draw options for vampire tribal, which can often drop creatures from hand or graveyard. Someday there’ll be a changeling-focused blink deck and Champion of Dusk will be an all-star there as well.
Corpse Augur can be great. It can get blown out with instant-speed exile removal or the emptying of a graveyard. But the big-brain play is to point a dying Augur at someone else’s corpse-piled graveyard so that when someone tries to blow this out they aren’t removing your pile of dead but still extremely useful zombies.
In a Treasure– or other token-heavy deck, Reprocess is an enormous amount of cards. Not sure it’s worth it with creatures, and I’m not sure Squandered Resources is the best thing to be doing outside of janky combos unless you can get lands out of the graveyard.
Repeatable card draw is nice, especially if you’re filling your graveyard anyway because you’re one of a dozen black archetypes that wants to do that. And Cling to Dust can hate a piece of your opponent’s graveyard right when they try to nab it. It can also gain you life if your other draw effects have sapped you too much.
This is the first of quite a few zombie tribal card draw creatures. Graveborn Muse‘s weakness is the trigger being at the beginning of your upkeep. This means you reanimate or cast it and then wait for the turn to wheel before the Muse does its thing, which is rarely acceptable to the table.
If you can reanimate just before your upkeep with something like Necromancy, that’s better.
Cryptbreaker can net you some cards with enough zombies. Outside of that it’s not very relevant, but it’s a safe bet for dedicated zombie decks since it can drop down for one mana and tap your team for a bunch of cards.
You would never play Dark Prophecy for six mana, much less one that only triggers off your creatures. Liliana, Dreadhorde General‘s other abilities are why this Liliana is the most played planeswalker in Commander.
But it can still come down, and its sac trigger will draw you two cards right away.
Black Market Connections is a way better card, boomers, but I get why this is still played. Phyrexian Arena looks like it will be the business, but it’s not the black Rhystic Study. Heck, it’s not even the black Mystic Remora!
Commander games just end too fast for this card these days, and I think I’d rather be doing a lot of other things on turn 3 if I drew this card. And this is just depressing as a topdeck.
You’d always, always want Greed if it didn’t cost four to get down. Two life for a card is a worse life loss rate than better cards on this list. But it’s not that terrible for black which is used to such indignities.
If the Looter was in black, would it be a premium card? Hardly.
#24. Demonlord Belzenlok
This can get you a bunch of cards when it drops in a demon deck with lots of expensive things. In a deck with cheaper interaction and other spells, well, not so much.
Demonlord Belzenlok isn’t a good rate when it only gets you one card. But this would be a good option for acceleration if you’re running a deck where you know the curve is too high.
People seem to play it in a lot of Rakdos () decks, but I’ve had a lot more success running this with blue or white to grab some blink or phasing effects for safety.
#22. Treacherous Blessing + Demonic Lore
Mainstays of decks that can sac them (like the uber annoying Doom Foretold decks), blink them, give them to opponents after the sweet cards are drawn, or all three, Treacherous Blessing and Demonic Lore can still get you three cards for three even if you can’t do any of those, which is a great rate. If you’re fast or Death’s Shadow enough to manage the life loss, go for it.
#21. Pact of the Serpent + Minions’ Murmurs
Pact of the Serpent and Minions’ Murmurs can be a lot of cards. But just like more expensive spells like Sanguimancy, these can get blown out at sorcery speed when your zombie board gets hit with a Flame Sweep.
The downside of eating your graveyard to draw cards is maybe worse in black than any other color. So let’s imagine that clause isn’t on Skeletal Scrying. Draw X for X life at instant speed is awesome and definitely better than the next card on the list. But losing the graveyard is a lot, so why did I rank this so high?
If you’re playing Commander in 2022, you’re playing against more graveyard decks than ever before. You’re likely also playing against more graveyard hate. The ability to respond to a Rest in Peace with massive card draw has to take a bit of the sting out, yes?
So you should give this underplayed card a second look if you’re piloting a deck with some black in it that often operates at instant speed.
Neither this card nor the original, Recycle, which was color shifted to black in Planar Chaos for Null Profusion, is played that much in EDH. I get it. They’re old, expensive to cast, and weird. But they’re awesome Storm enablers when they’re down, just in kind of the wrong colors.
Still, in a Commander world of faster ramp, these seem like a lost opportunity. A little self-mill or an alternate use for cards like Entomb in your Ghen, Arcanum Weaver deck and you can really start doing some things. This card should see more play!
#18. Asmodeus the Archfiend
Asmodeus the Archfiend is a clunky Griselbrand riff that’s both better and worse than it looks. First off, it doesn’t fly, so remember that! But second, it can grab you huge card piles as long as you don’t fully tap out.
So this can get you more cards for less life loss than the monster at #4, but it synergizes pretty terribly with the rest of black card draw. Unless you really, really want to lose life since it makes you pay the life tax twice.
#17. Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar
Compare this to Ayara. Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar costs mana to use, but it can easily draw a lot more cards. It’s also one of the few draw X effects on a black card that doesn’t cost you life, which matters.
This “fixed” Necropotence is still pretty useful. But a one-time Necro for five mana with the same restriction to cast on end step is surprisingly difficult to use, which is of course the point.
Necrologia is the best of the big mana draw a lot spells in black.
Because Species Specialist is customizable to your tribe, this is more flexible than the next set of cards on this list. But it’s more expensive and likely not itself in the tribe you announce so it comes with some drawbacks.
#14. Taborax, Hope’s Demise
More resilient than the next few cards because it’s not a creature, Dark Prophecy is also harder to cast, harder to recur, and only triggers off your team. But these kinds of effects always net you more than you think and make board wipes a little more survivable in your tribal decks.
This is what you want out in a zombie deck for board wipes, or just to help out while Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver is mowing things down. Undead Augur can represent a lot of cards in a synergistic card type given the reanimation in zombie decks.
No less vital for being a powered down version of the next card, Midnight Reaper gives you plenty of cards as you sac your way through your board. It also refills you for board wipes. It’s also a zombie, which helps the most popular black tribe.
If you’re a black deck they know what this is. They’ll kill it first and you’ll wonder how they knew. They always knew.
Always on the bubble of the top tier in Modern, Golgari () Yawgmoth is a combo deck with undying creatures like Young Wolf. But outside of combo which is a bit harder in casual EDH, Yawgmoth can draw a lot of cards.
#8. Bolas’s Citadel
This card has animated the janky dreams of deckbuilders perhaps more than any other. There are so many ways to try to combo off with Bolas’s Citadel, whether that’s various kinds of storm decks in Modern, Jund Citadel in Pioneer, or that deck you’ve seen in Historic with Bartered Cow and Refurbish.
The suspense of this card makes it one of my favorites on this list. Will the Citadel player run out of targets or life before they find their wincon?
If you’re playing Shadowborn Apostle, black reanimator, or cEDH, this card is in your 99. Vilis, Broker of Blood allows you to spend one black mana and two life to draw a card by targeting itself, which you can repeat eight times until Vilis poetically succumbs to his own ambition. And you’re off to the races if there are opponents’ creatures to target or something to combo with the life loss.
Powered down Griselbrand is still pretty good.
#6. Deadly Dispute + Reckoner’s Bargain + Costly Plunder + Altars’ Reap
Two mana. Instant speed. Sac to draw two. These cards are bread and butter to most black decks. Obviously the bonuses, like a Treasure for Deadly Dispute, matter a lot. But you want these as long as you can bin a creature that was going to die anyway to refill the fight. Probably all of them in a creature-centric black EDH deck.
You could play Bankrupt in Blood, Plumb the Forbidden, or Skulltap in this slot. But there’s only so many places in a Commander deck for sac-draw spells when you look at the limitations of those cards in comparison to these four, and those three don’t make the cut.
But one mana is one mana, and one mana is less than two.
Draw two for two is an awesome rate, and Night’s Whisper does that for a little life drain. Less raw power than a lot of the top 20, but the low mana cost means you’ll always find it useful.
This simple little spell is more flexible than Night’s Whisper because you can point it at an opponent for lethal damage or synergy with your life drain machine. Sign in Blood is often one of two card draw spells in mono black cEDH decks. The other one is the #1 card.
Banned in Commander, this Cube reanimator staple is actually legal in Modern. Although Modern is too fast and interactive for any of these battlecruiser demons, there’s a nutty combo you can try if you don’t really like winning that uses Allosaurus Rider to Neoform out Griselbrand.
If that sounds like fun, well, have at it!
The Ice Age monster that dominated the game when I started playing, Necropotence is still the best. It can get you a fantastic number of card, where you have a lot more life to burn, especially in Commander. You can’t always keep them all but the selection offered here is significant.
A more expensive but more powerful version is Yawgmoth’s Bargain, legal only in Vintage. That’s how powerful this kind of effect is if left unchecked.
Zombies, vampires, and clerics come first to mind since they have dedicated cards on this list. But other tribes that touch on black, from pirates to knights to demons to rats, can benefit from some of the creature death-oriented cards in this list.
Such cards provide protection from board wipes and other removal. And to the extent that your deck wants to sacrifice creatures, even better.
Lots of black decks want to have a sacrifice or aristocrat theme. A lot of cards here reward you for doing that, and many actually enable that strategy as a sacrifice outlet.
Griselbrand | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk
Black has some amazing card draw options if you’re willing to deal with or work around or even use the disadvantages. And not just in zombie decks.
Hopefully there are enough options here to give you some food for thought (braiinnnnnssss!) as you brew your next black deck. And there are any options that we missed? You can always let us know in the comments below or over on Twitter.
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