The Magical History of Black 2/1s for B

I haven’t done these in a long while, because making these always takes a horribly long time. So, I chose something that’s actually easy to cover, because there isn’t that many of these cards.

There seems to be some limits that the game hasn’t crossed yet despite years and years of aggressive power creep. For example, there still isn’t a 2/2 for 1U without a drawback and there haven’t even been one with a drawback in ages. In some cases they do break the rules. There wasn’t a 2/1 red creature without a drawback for decades, but they broke that rule and now we have four.

With black, they still haven’t done that break, but these have definitely become stronger. So, why specifically black? There’s more of these in white and the variety among them is also wider. The history of these in red is more interesting (and there’s the same number of them). The reason is actually quite simple: I love these cards. Disruptive aggro might not be a relevant archetype these days, but ever since Suicide Black way back around year 2000, I’ve loved this playstyle. You play a cheap creature on turn one and then try your best to keep the opponent from gaining any ground through removal and hand disruption. You generally need something like these cards to make that work.

Also, there is an interesting thread here regarding how cards are designed. There’s a lot of restrictions on blocking as well as recurring creatures. You can see how they at WotC think about these creatures. You can basically use the same abilities, but tie them to the themes of the set.

Maybe I’ll get back to the other colors at some point or maybe I should have covered them all here (as there aren’t that many of them, just around 50-60 in total), but again, I wanted to do something relatively simple.

Note 1: There are several 2/2 for B, but I’m not going to cover those.

Note 2: There might be some 2/1s, you can generate for B in other ways (like Sarcomancy, which is an enchantment for B that produces a 2/2), but I didn’t bother to look for them.

Note 3: There are some creatures that are 1/1s on paper, but in some ways function like a 2/1, such as Grasping Scoundrel, which probably should have counted, but didn’t, because I just decided not to try to figure out all the ways they might have worded that or similar abilities.

But here we go:

Starting with one of the least like sets of all time: Mercadian Masks (1999). The set and the block came right after the Urza block (Urza’s Saga, Urza’s Legacy, Urza’s Destiny), which broke standard in all sorts of ways and resulted in numerous bannings. You think Eldraine was bad? Urza’s days were much worse. So, they overcorrected and this block is very underpowered (although there are still some powerful cards in the set).

The card for our context from that set is…

Well, first, why would a bird have mammaries? Anyhow, I do kind of like the flavor. You need to maintain the harpy, because it’s losing it’s feathers. That’s the extent of why anyone would like this. I guess there might be some marginal use for this card after Outlaws of Thunder Junction comes out (where the Mercenary type is relevant), but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Paying 2 each turn just isn’t feasible, although I could imagine a world where sacrificing it could be beneficial, but this is highly unlikely with the powerlevel being where it is.

Next up is Carrion Rats from Torment (2002), so it took three years to get there again.

I kind of think this is pretty strong and possibly good, but I also know that’s not true, as giving any kind of control to the opponent always seems to backfire. This was used twice in some kind of a promotional deck. I don’t know what exactly these were, but it appears from the little information I have that there were a couple of European publishers, who released some kind of preconstructed decks and this was in those decks.

It took them quite a while before we got another one of these. About 10 years, actually. Gravecrawler is the first example of making it more difficult to block with these and that’s a common theme among these. There’s also another theme, which will come up multiple times: it’s easy to recur.

Of course, it’s also an important combo piece as it is very easy to recur from the graveyard and cheap enough that you don’t even need the likes of Rooftop Storm. While this has never since found it’s way into Standard, it has seen plenty of reprints in Double Masters, The List, Jumpstart, Secret Lair and so forth.

The next one was from Theros (2013) and it saw quite a bit of play: Tormented Hero.

Of course, the heroic ability is mostly just flavor text in constructed, but it did become relevant every once in a while. Sometimes because of the next card, sometimes when you just used your removal on this yourself to push through that one final damage. While the previous card brought in the theme of not being able to block, this also has a common ability in coming into play tapped, which has also been used multiple times in the latter cards.

We didn’t have to wait as long for the next one. Gnarled Scarhide was in Journey into Nyx (2014) just two sets later. There was a cycle of these creatures with Bestow with a drawback, the idea being that you can use them either on your own creature or an opponents creature. Like this one: You could stop a creature from blocking. Not that you would want to do that very often, but it was an option and while the Bestow costs were relatively high, they were otherwise cost efficient. At least for the time.

This saw some Standard play, but only because it was such a cheap threat. I seem to remember seeing the red one played as well, but I’m not sure. I could even see the white played, although in the world of Supreme Verdict, playing anything that forces you to commit more creatures, is just not viable. On the other hand, for just that very same reason, Gnarled Scarhide and other Bestow creatures were stronger.

Bloodsoaked Champion was printed in the very same year in Khans of Tarkir. It’s just a Gravecrawler with harder way of recurring itself. I have, in the past, made use of the fact that this is a human warrior, as warriors were a thing in the Khans block and humans are always a thing.

This was also used as a promo and has since been reprinted in a Commander deck and in Commander Legends: Baldur’s Gate (or whatever the name is).

While it took them a couple of years, we can see from this card from Amonkhet (2017) that they did really find a way to do these cards. Restrictions on blockng? Check. Way to recur it tied to the themes of the set? Check.

I could say pretty much the same thing about the next one as well. It’s from Ravnica Allegiance (2019) and it has restrictions to blocking as well as the ability to recur itself in a way that is thematic for the set.

… and in Adventures in Forgotten Realms (2021) as well.

Dominaria United’s (2022) version is not as tied to the theme, but otherwise pretty much the same thing.

… and while I don’t necessarily want to bring up Unfinity (2022) cards, as I think that set was a huge mistake, they returned to form here.

Finally, another card I wish didn’t exist, because I dislike the product, Snarlfang Vermin from Alchemy: Murders at Markov Manor (2024). At least it breaks the mold, but it’s also so complicated that who is ever going to play this card? Sure, if you could play it in Commander, you might, because it would have a weird effect on the game, but since it’s Alchemy, despite having no reason to be, you can’t… without proxying it.

So, there you have it. There’s enough of them to make a theme deck for Pioneer or Explorer, but I doubt it would be very playable (although by adding just Thoughtseizes and Fatal Pushes you could definitely steal some games).

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