Gatecrash finally hit store shelves across the world this past Friday, and those who weren't able to attend the sold-out prereleases finally got a taste of what the new set has to offer. So for those of you who are dipping your toes in the perilous waters of Gatecrash for the first time, let me continue with my rundown of the set, color by color and card by card. After I finished off the monoblue cards with part 2, I of course had to move on to the first half of the black cards. So here we go:
Balustrade Spy - This guy's enters-the-battlefield trigger is the infamous grind mechanic, which, as Mark Rosewater has explained, very nearly became the Dimir keyword. There are quite a few creatures in this set with milling triggered abilities but I like this one more than most of them because grind has the potential to be a lot more crippling than mill with a set number. Much like Mindeye Drake, this makes for a good flying blocker to protect a dedicated mill deck from aggro. Also, points for using a five-dollar word in that name, Creative.
Basilica Screecher - The fact that there are two extort two-drops - this and Syndic of Tithes - means that Orzhov control archetypes can get very scary very quickly in the Gatecrash Limited environment. While this has the disadvantage of having only 1 power, it is also, importantly for Limited, evasive. Be prepared to have your life total chipped away in pinpricks if you face one of these.
Contaminated Ground - R&D is generally against printing cheap land destruction nowadays, but for all intents and purposes that is exactly what this is. There's a good chance that turning an opponent's land into a Swamp - remember, that causes it to lose all its other basic land types, which is extra punishing when used on shocklands - will make it useless to pay for any of their colored costs. And on top of that, it won't be long before the 2-life-per-tap requirement gets to be too much for them. I would play the everloving crap out of this in Gatecrash Limited if I were playing black control, or even aggro.
Corpse Blockade - In terms of cards that discourage attacking in this set, this has got to be up at the top. Orzhov really wants this because it's the best ground-based blocker black could possibly ask for, but it also goes really well with Selesnya, of all guilds, because they'll always have creatures to spare (but then there's R&D encouraging us to mix and match guild colors again). The design nerd in me likes the dynamic where it can effectively always trade in combat, substituting another of your creatures for its own death.
Crypt Ghast - Much can be said for how this supercharges extort, but I say the hell with it - I just want to use this for the accel! In a monoblack deck this one gives you access to ten black mana on turn 5, which should be more than enough to win the game for you, whether you're playing Limited or Constructed. Hell, that's more than enough for a Plague Wind, for crying out loud. The long and short of it is: This is cheaper than Nirkana Revenant, which is a $7 card. So get your hands on these before the price shoots up.
Death's Approach - It's one-mana removal that won't go off on turn 1, which is fair enough. This is good because you can toss them out like candy in the late game because they're so cheap, which is when they'll be the most relevant. If you're in really dire straits you can technically use this as your turn-1 drop, in which case it'll just be a delayed kill. All in all, never going to be not useful in Limited.
Devour Flesh - The warrior depicted in that artwork is in the Cult of Rakdos, so I'm rather unsurprised he turned to cannibalism. If you're playing either Orzhov extort control or suicide-black aggro, the fact that this will boost your opponent's life total if you use it as instant-speed removal won't really matter to you. I also like that you can use it to save yourself if you're forced on the defensive.
Dying Wish - This looks to be a black mirror of Murder Investigation, a card I really like, so I like this one as well. In fact, in some instances I like it even better, because unlike the white version, this can lead to an immediate win. I'd definitely play this if I had some fat creatures in my Limited deck, as both removal-proofing and as a way to win-through-sacrifice.
Gateway Shade - Doubling pump output is certainly a way to make Gates relevant in this Limited environment. After all, if you've got a mere four Gates, and remember that they're common and will be in almost every booster pack come Dragon's Maze, this thing can swing as a 9/9. I'm just a little bit irked that that second ability wasn't templated as "1: Gateway Shade gets +2/+2 until end of turn. Spend only mana produced by a Gate in this way."
Grisly Spectacle - Mill sure gets tacked on to a lot of blue and black cards in Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. R&D is really pushing win conditions other than damage in this environment (see my article on the de facto alternate win subtheme in this block). But even if you're not actually playing a "mill deck" a Murder with a bonus is still very nice to have in Limited. In the best case scenario it'll take a threat off the battlefield and prevent future ones from even getting as far as your opponent's hand.
Gutter Skulk - This is the second black 2/2 for two mana in this block, after my beloved Tavern Swindler, and it is a functional reprint of Innistrad's Walking Corpse. People who have been playing Magic for a long time might say this is a sign of the apocalypse. I say it's just a sign R&D wants black to be able to aggro out better in Limited. You go, little Zombie Rat guy.
Horror of the Dim - Hexproof annoys a lot of people, but this is basically guaranteed to annoy far less of them since it's activated. Filling the "funky power and toughness for a black creature" slot that Catacomb Slug did in the last set, this is unfortunately probably some of the best Dimir is going to get at midrange. Still, it's a beater that can protect itself from removal so it's far from unplayable.
Illness in the Ranks - Sure, they wait for a set without Selesnya in it to print a relevant hoser? The odd thing is, certain aspects of Boros may be the guild that suffers most from this, since the majority of Selesnya's tokens and the ones it wants to populate the most are bigger than 1/1. But this is uncommon, so it's hardly impossible to run this in multiples. I guarantee this is going to be in a lot of sideboards come Dragon's Maze.
Killing Glare - This is fairly efficient at X equals 1 or 2, but if you're paying four mana or more for this, it's not really worth it. This is, then, the opposite of a typical X-spell: You get the best value out of it in the early game. It is, however, comforting to have these on hand when you can afford to kill a 7-power creature with them.
Lord of the Void - Speaking of 7 power - sevens all around, actually - this is one of my favorite cards in the set for reasons I listed when it was first previewed. I like it in Commander, I like it for a crazy monoblack build in Limited, I even like it in Standard reanimator.