Best Cards in Modern – Black 
The Top 5 Black Magic Cards in Modern
Authors: Andrea Piemonti, Sebastian Rosenauer, Ricardo Silva, Sven Stolz, Zen Takahashi
Editor: Philippe Zens
Last year I was approached by Sebastian, one of our magazine writers, about the idea of making a collaborative series – where a couple of authors would rate and review the best cards in Modern.
A couple of weeks later and here we are. Looking at one of the game’s most evil colors: Black.
This is how it works
We asked our authors to send us their personal top 10 black cards of the Modern format. No multicolor cards. We will do those another time. Then we created an aggregated list, based on their top 10, to come with a unified Top 5 list of cards. We sent them the top 5 and asked for their comment.
Do they think this is a good top 5?
Are these the worthiest cards?
Were there any snubs?
Is the number one spot deserved?
What impact do those cards have on the format?
These and many other questions will be answered in this article. One more note before we dive into the dark depths of Modern. We will go straight through the top 5 and then also share the initial top 10 lists of our authors.
Fifth Place – Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
This powerful 4 drop is really a one-card-combo: It does the removal package, the card draw engine, and it can also proliferate (a relevant ability in a world of Urza’s Saga).
Mixed with the right creatures, it can be the heart of a powerful combo deck:
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, plus two undying creatures (for example Geralf’s Messenger and Young Wolf) generates a Yawgmoth’s Bargain sort-of engine, that can be turned to a One Turn Kill adding a Zulaport Cutthroat effect to the mix. Yawgmoth, Thran Physician + Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons is something similar to Plague Wind.
In my opinion, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician (and the BG deck) are the reasons why Birthing Pod is still unbanned, and not safe to unban.
Again a card that is the namesake and key-piece of an entire deck. The four-mana human cleric is a very unique creature with a lot of text. The most important ability is it being able to sacrifice other creatures, put -1/-1 counters on creatures and draw cards.
In combination with the numerous undying creatures of the format, this makes for a solid game plan that can be delivered consistently. While the combo requires you to assemble at least three creatures including Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, there are enough cards to help with this task, namely Chord of Calling and Eldritch Evolution.
The deck is really performing well and always makes for interesting games. It is also a home for many cards that would otherwise not see play in Modern, such as Grist, the Hunger Tide, Ignoble Hierarch or Dryad Arbor.
Yawgmoth is the glue that holds this deck together and singlehandedly makes it playable.
Therefore, he is deservedly high up on this list. I have put Yawgmoth, Thran Physician on 7th place on my personal list, but I can see that he deserves better.
If I am not mistaken, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician is the only four mana creature being played in Modern which has no “enters the battlefield” effect.
You do need to play him in a very synergistic deck to abuse his abilities, so the natural home is alongside creatures with the Undying ability.
Once Yawgmoth, Thran Physician is played, if there are some Undying creatures in play, you can draw as many cards as your life total allows you to.
“Life total is a resource” is an often used adage in Magic, and this deck pushes this to the limit as every lost point of life means you will potentially be drawing one less card with Yawgmoth.
If you like creature based combo decks, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician Combo is probably your best bet in the current Modern metagame. It is an underrated deck as it is not that easy to play, but it has managed to put up multiple impressive results in the last few months even while being very underrepresented.
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician is the key card of its own deck GB Yawgmoth and put up decent results in Modern so far.
I initially put it on 9 because neither do I think the card nor the deck deserves to be that high on the list in comparison to overall more impactful cards the format offers right now. Still, I can see giving it a Top 5 „Wildcard“ status for being a more breakout card for Modern making an entire deck working on its mechanic.
Depending on how the meta shifts or new printings influence the deck, I can see that card and deck completely disappear from the field or even getting an upgrade to become tier 1.
It’s definitely an interesting card to see evolve and shape the format.
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician is one of my absolute favorite cards in Modern at the moment, and I’ve previously written about the Golgari Yawgmoth deck (which you can find here, where he is the marquee card.
To put it simply, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician is just such a fun card to play!
Similar to Birthing Pod from the past, you can use it to enable a combo, but it can also just act as a card advantage engine and/or influence the board state via the -1/-1 counters. This flexibility means that you will get to experience a wide range of play patterns whenever you play with the card.
While piloting the Golgari Yawgmoth deck, I’ve regularly ruined an opponent’s board simply by killing off their creatures/shrinking them enough to make attacking unprofitable, and I’ve even proliferate’d an opponent’s Chalice of the Void from one to two to lock them out of casting a bunch of spells!
I can definitely understand people not putting Yawgmoth, Thran Physician in their top five list as it’s only played in one deck, which isn’t a dominant player in the metagame either, but the card makes the archetype and there aren’t too many good mono-black creatures in Modern right now.
For that reason, I’m pretty happy for it to be included in the list.
Fourth Place – Fatal Push
I remember when Fatal Push was originally printed in Kaladesh block, and people got crazy about this card.
Being able to deal with Tarmogoyf for one mana (the previous best answer was Liliana of the Veil’s second ability or a Ulcerate) was a revolution for the modern format.
Right now, Push is not shining anymore, due mostly to unholy heat that replaced Fatal Push as the best removal of the format since it can deal with planeswalkers too.
By the way, Fatal Push will always be a pillar of the format, a great efficient card and the premium removal for all the decks that can’t afford to go red.
The first one-mana spell on our list and an essential piece in the black toolbox.
Again, it is all about efficiency.
In a low-to-the ground format like Modern, Fatal Push can take down almost any creature on the battlefield with the consistent revolt triggers due to the Fetchland mana base.
In control decks it offers the necessary protection and time to develop, and in aggro decks it clears the way for creatures to attack. It’s again deservedly high up on the list, as it’s super versatile and indispensable, at least in the sideboard of every black deck. It’s such a good removal spell that it is even a good pick-up in Vintage Cube!
There is just not much more to say here, Fatal Push is a great black card in Modern and really emblematic for what the color is all about. For me, Push deserves a Top 3 spot, but I can see how it falls just behind the next card.
When Fatal Push was first printed a few years ago, it had a very big impact in Modern right off the bat.
Cards like Spellskite which used to be great against removal now were clunky as you traded two mana for a one mana removal.
Decks like Infect started struggling to keep up with the efficiency of Fatal Push. Jund suddenly had access to multiple efficient answers to any cheap threat, and you had to think long and hard if it was actually worth it to play any creature which costs three of four mana.
With the power creep of the last few years, I am of the opinion that Fatal Push does not deserve a spot in this Top 5.
Nowadays, there are multiple other answers just as efficient as Fatal Push like Prismatic Ending and Unholy Heat, and the card has been slowly replaced with these alternatives as they are just more versatile.
Fatal Push is sometimes still being played, but very rarely as a playset and more as copies 5-6 of Unholy Heat to provide reactive decks with enough redundancy for specific threats.
Despite the printings of Prismatic Ending and Unholy Heat, Fatal Push is still your best go to black removal spell in the format.
It kills the majority of creatures you play against and is easy to Revolt with Fetchlands around.
It lost a lot of relevance and flexibility compared to previous mentioned cards because it interacts with creatures only, but you will still play some copies of it when being in black.
In general, removal spells have become more powerful than ever in the format, so the numbers of Fatal Push declined naturally. But as long as Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Lurrus of the Dream-Den remain to be Tier 1 strategies in the field, there’s a good reason to sleeve up the instant speed removal spell.
Personally, I don’t consider Fatal Push to be one of the top five black cards in Modern. While it was previously a major removal spell in the format, nowadays with Unholy Heat, Drown in the Loch, Solitude and Prismatic Ending, the card is no longer as relevant as it used to be. Still, it does see some play here and there.
At the time Fatal Push was printed, it was significant for Modern as it solved a major dilemma that removal spells had at the time.
The two most played removal spells by a large margin were Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile – the former of which could be played early but could only kill small creatures, while the latter could deal with any creature but was punishing to play in the early turns of the game.
Fatal Push was a bridge between the two in many ways, as it was able to be played on turn one or two, while also being able to handle bigger creatures – most notably Tarmogoyf and Thought-Knot Seer at the time.
What I like about Fatal Push is that it presents some interesting decisions around how to sequence your lands. Often you want to use your Fetchlands to fetch a tapped shockland when you don’t need to use the mana, fetch basics early to play around Blood Moon, or crack a fetchland simply to thin your deck/re-arrange your library to increase your chances of drawing a nonland spell.
However, Fatal Push encourages you to hold Fetchlands so that you can reliably trigger Revolt. I have definitely in the past cracked a Fetch at my opponent’s end step out of instinct, only to then draw a Fatal Push and not be able to kill my opponent’s creature as I wasted my Fetchland!
Third Place – Death’s Shadow
13/13 for one mana! Even if I’m not a huge Death’s Shadow fan, I must recognize Shadow is probably the best threat for midrange decks at the moment.
Costing one mana means it plays exceptionally well with Expressive Iteration. It’s also very good paired with Dress Down, and I can’t stress it enough how good that blue enchantment is.
The downsides are firstly the life management, but I’m sure a navigated player can leverage this resource as they need; second it plays poorly against Solitude, but the mixture of discard spells, counterspells and Dress Downs can solve this issue too.
As I’m writing this piece, 4/8 decks in the last MTGO PTQ were almost the same 75 of Grixis Shadow… A true proof of how good this card is in the right deck.
This one-mana creature is the namesake card of a current top-tier deck in the format, Grixis Death’s Shadow and has been among the most consistent constructed cards in recent years.
The Modern mana base of Fetch- and Shocklands can quickly grow the one-drop to become a powerful threat, while one or two additional Thoughtseize can clear the way for him to make damage. Paired with Lurrus of the Dream-Den it is certainly one of the most powerful permanents to return from the graveyard for free once it has been dealt with.
There is not much that can block a big Death’s Shadow, however, many of the common removal spells of the format can take care of it, until Lurrus… Death’s Shadow and the namesake deck are emblematic for how Magic is played today, interrupt your opponent, play a cheap strong threat and counter whatever your opponent tries to play against you.
I have personally placed Death’s Shadow lower than our aggregate list, but this is also due to the fact that it is not my preferred kind of strategy.
The fact that it always shows up in the Top 8’s of various formats over the years speaks for itself.
It is certainly an entertaining card and there are some cool interactions that are currently played, such as the Dress Down combo which annuls Death’s Shadow’s ability and makes him a straight up 13/13. Also Lightning Bolt working as a Giant Growth in certain situations, such as dodging an opposing Bolt for example, has blown me out in many games.
The best black creature in the format takes the third place on this list, and the sheer size of this thing is absolutely ridiculous for a one mana creature.
Once your life total is low enough, Death’s Shadow outgrows virtually any other creature in the format, which means that it can be very tricky playing against the card as you don’t want to make this monstrosity too big before you can actually handle it.
Death’s Shadow first started seeing play a few years ago in a very different type of deck in Modern, called Suicide Zoo. The deck’s name was very fitting, as its gameplan consisted of getting your life total down as quickly as possible with Street Wraith, Mutagenic Growth, Thoughtseize and Fetchlands. The finishing blow was then usually dealt with Become Immense or Temur Battle Rage.
Nowadays, the game patterns are different. The deck is much less fragile and more interactive. It can grind extremely well with cards like Expressive Iteration of Lurrus the Dream-Den, while still being extremely efficient.
These decks are currently amongst the best in the format, and there were 4 of them placed in the most recent Modern Super Qualifier showing that it will not be disappearing anytime soon.
Death’s Shadow belongs in both Modern and Legacy to my all-time favorite cards. Death’s Shadow was THE defining card for the tempo archetype in Modern and was a legit tier 1 shell for years.
Although Death’s Shadow gets all my love and passion, I personally don’t see the card as a true number 3 contender when making the list. The reason for this is mainly that since the printing of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Murktide Regent the tempo archetype reinvented itself in being primarily blue-red and making Death’s Shadow not a necessary creature for tempo shells anymore.
In fact, I see Death’s Shadow itself as the worst creature being played in tempo decks right now. The life loss can be problematic vs. aggressive decks, Death’s Shadow easily looses against flying Murktide Regents or blocking Construct tokens from Urza’s Saga while Prismatic Ending and Solitude represent strong answers as Swords to Plowshares effects so the life loss as a build up for Death’s Shadow doesn’t pay of anymore.
Despite Grixis Shadow being currently maybe the strongest deck in the format (thanks to Lurrus obviously) I think Death’s Shadow is not the correct way how you want to approach your tempo deck in the future.
Cards like Tourach, Dread Cantor or Dauthi Voidwalker can substitute Shadow really well giving more midrange quality to the shells while Ragavan and DRC are the turn 1 tempo openers for the decks. This is why I put Death’s Shadow below Tourach and Dauthi in my personal list.
Like Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Death’s Shadow is another archetype namesake card. It only sees play in one major deck, but it is the defining card of the archetype and what makes it work. The deck also happens to be one of the best decks in the format right now.
By this point, everyone knows about Grixis Shadow, as the deck has been around for a number of years. It has definitely changed over time – gone are cards like Snapcaster Mage and Street Wraith, which used to be considered staples of the archetype, and instead we see the deck utilize many of the best cards printed in the past two years such as Dragon’s Rage Channeler, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Lurrus of the Dream-Den.
However, Death’s Shadow origin wasn’t in this Grixis shell, but rather the card was first seen in an aggro deck called “Suicide Zoo”. Initially designed by prolific Japanese deck builder “matsugan” on Magic Online, the idea was that Zoo decks already take a lot of damage from their lands, as they were generally four colors and needed Shocklands to support Wild Nacatl.
By inserting Death’s Shadow into this shell, you had a payoff for the life you were losing from your lands, while also being able to abuse “free” spells like Gitaxian Probe and Mutagenic Growth to pump out your Monastery Swiftspears and help fuel delve.
Combined with a playset of Temur Battle Rage and multiple copies of Become Immense, the deck would regularly get a Splinter Twin-esque win out of nowhere with a big, double-striking trampler.
One of my best friends in the world is Simon Nielsen, former World Magic Cup winner and multiple-time Grand Prix Champion from Denmark. The first time I properly met Simon was at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, where his team, Team Eureka, broke this deck out into the world after previously only being seen as a fringe deck on Magic Online (funnily enough, the CEO of ThreeForOne, Oliver Polak-Rottman, was also part of Team Eureka!).
Simon didn’t make day two of the Pro Tour, but what I distinctly remember was him making a note of every time he misplayed with the deck during day one, and by the end of the day his pad was filled with bullet points! This kind of quirky behavior is what I love about Simon, but also demonstrated just how complex that version of Death’s Shadow was to play.
Second Place – Inquisition of Kozilek
Discard effects are part of the identity of the modern format.
Inquisition of Kozilek is an incredibly powerful card:
First, it has no downside, it’s simply a discard spell.
Second, in a format dominated mostly by Lurrus of the Dream-Den decks, it’s very hard to miss with it.
Being able to play Discard spells is the best way to stick a midrange plan in modern, and Inquisition of Kozilek for sure suit that plan really well.
Inquisition of Kozilek: The weaker cousin of Thoughtseize.
Obviously, this card is less powerful than our number one, but the ability to interrupt the opposing gameplan on turn one remains extremely powerful.
Inquisition of Kozilek is perfect for Modern, as the most important cards in most decks are usually worth three mana or less. Not having to pay life can be an additional upside in some matchups, but also a downside if we think of Death’s Shadow.
Many decks that play Thoughtseize are also interested to add some copies of Inquisition, that’s how strong this effect is. I am not surprised the two top spots are occupied by these two similar spells, as they both really shine in a variety of decks and almost always can hit something relevant and give you an early advantage. The difference in power level between the two is not very much in Modern, as we can also see by looking at our last Top 5 blue cards, which were almost all at three mana or below.
Efficiency is often key in Modern, and Inquisition of Kozilek fits in very well in such a format.
There are some very relevant cards which dodge IoK like Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Goblin Charbelcher, Omnath, Locus of Creation, Primeval Titan or any of the new Elementals, but just looking at the list of most played cards in Modern shows how many other cards Inquisition of Kozilek hits.
In comparison to the other most played discard spell in Modern, IoK does not make you lose life, so it is one of the best cards against aggressive decks like Burn.
There’s not much to say about Inquisition of Kozilek being second place on the list. It’s one of the strongest discard spells the format has seen.
Especially when being on the play, I personally think the relevance of a discard spell even increased since stronger creatures like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer entered the format since Modern Horizons 2.
Thoughtseize’s little sibling, Inquisition of Kozilek has been a major roleplayer since the beginning of the format.
What I’ve always liked about Inquisition of Kozilek is that it’s universal enough that it’s playable against every deck, but its limitations are present enough that it leads to interesting decisions both around deck building and sideboarding.
For example, the old Jund decks used to always play seven discard spells. However, whether that be 4 Thoughtseize / 3 Inquisition of Kozilek or vice-versa constantly shifted based on where the metagame was at.
The former could hit cards like Birthing Pod, Cryptic Command and Splinter Twin – all of which were important, but the latter was better versus Burn and Zoo, and also back then manabases were a lot more painful as decks were more reliant on Shocklands, which meant a turn one Thoughtseize commonly saw you at 15 life from the get-go.
Around sideboarding as well, Inquisition of Kozilek presents interesting questions regularly. You can keep it in against Burn, unlike Thoughtseize, but how good is it against a deck like Blue-White Control? It hits a lot of the early interaction and removal spells, but it doesn’t hit the haymakers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and is often a poor lategame topdeck. How about against a deck like Red-Green Valakut, where it can hit the ramp spells, but can’t actually hit the win cons – Scapeshift and Primeval Titan.
I think the fact that Inquisition of Kozilek is more limited in scope this way definitely makes the card more interesting, but it’s universal enough that it helps alleviate Modern’s historical issues around having too many narrow disruptions spells.
First Place – Thoughtseize
If you are speaking of Discard spells, It’s hard to not mention Thoughtseize. This black one-mana sorcery is in my opinion the best card in the modern history. It’s basically played everywhere, and it shines more or less depending on the metagame.
Right now I’m playing a playset even in Hammer Time, but I recollect playing this card in a lot of different archetypes, from UB control to Ad Nauseam, from Goblins to even Sultai Urza.
Being able to remove whatever nonland card for just one mana and two life is really key: you can play it on turn one to map whatever your opponent is doing, you can delay it to snipe a Lurrus or to jam your combo immediately…
It’s hard to say how much I love this card and how much I think it’s an egregious design.
Unsurprisingly, Thoughtseize claimed the top spot in this one. In many ways, this card defines the Modern metagame. At the cost of only one mana, Thoughtseize gives you the ability to get rid of a problematic card in your opponent’s hand, while also granting you valuable information about how to approach the subsequent turns.
Discard spells are notoriously powerful, and Thoughtseize is arguably the best of them all. It is good at controlling strategies as well as aggro, as it just so impactful. The efficiency of this card is just hard to beat. To prepare against Thoughtseize, Modern decks need to bring a certain level of resiliency and redundancy to the battlefield. They need a higher density of threats or ways to refill in order to keep up with the early interruption.
As we can see in many Hammertime decks, it is often the only reason to play black as it is so good at slowing down anything your opponents might be doing.
I personally really like Thoughtseize because it always feels great to be in control and trade your one-mana spell against some big threat of your counterpart.
Additionally, I think it is a very flavorful card, as the two life it costs to cast beautifully illustrate the characteristics of the black color in Magic: The Gathering.
Thoughtseize has been a staple in the Modern metagame for a very long time now and is the undisputed best one-mana discard spell ever printed.
Thoughtseize gives the user an insight on the most likely play patterns for the upcoming turns, and can be used proactively to either discard an answer to a threat, disrupt the opponent’s curve, or strip a vital combo piece out of the opponent’s hand.
The apparent downside is the two life you have to pay, and it being a dead card when you draw it in the late game. Death’s Shadow decks turn the former into a benefit, and are arguably the best home in Modern for such a card.
The only black based decks which don’t play Thoughtseize at all in Modern are highly synergistic decks like Goblins or Mill, or decks which can’t afford to play it due to other restrictions like Living End.
Otherwise, be prepared to face Thoughtseize every time you play against a black deck, be it against midrange decks like Jund, Death’s Shadow, Rakdos, Dredge, or combo decks like Yawgmoth or Esper Reanimate.
Thoughtseize is the strongest discard and interaction spell the format offers.
The way Thoughtseize can disrupt your opponent and help you navigate through the game is on an absurd level if you truly think about it.
If you dislike being Thoughtseized on turn 1, Modern is not the format for you.
Probably not surprising it has been a staple for years in all 3 Eternal formats Modern, Legacy and Vintage. Although Counterspell has been a true contender in trying to substitute the discard spells, I think Thoughtseize is for Modern what Force of Will is for Legacy and Vintage.
Realistically, it was never going to be any other card. Thoughtseize has been the most defining disruption spell in Modern since the inception of the format, and to this day, it is still one of the most significant spells.
The two best decks in the format right now, Death’s Shadow and Hammer Time, both play Thoughtseize, with it also being one of the most important cards in the former’s deck.
In the previous article ranking the top blue cards in Modern, I talked about how the big difference between Modern and Legacy historically has been the lack of universal answers in the former, while the latter has cards like Daze, Force of Will and Wasteland.
For the longest time (basically until Counterspell was printed in Modern), Thoughtseize, and to a lesser extent Inquisition of Kozilek, were the only major universal disruption spells in Modern.
This meant that most midrange and control decks throughout Modern’s history have been black-based – whether it be Jund, Grixis Control or Death’s Shadow, while many decks have also utilized Thoughtseize in their sideboard as a catch-all card for the different combo decks in the format.
In fact, decks like Dredge have even used Thoughtseize as an answer to an opponent’s hate cards! Almost every black deck in Modern plays Thoughtseize in some capacity, and without it, the format would be much worse-off.
Personal Top 10 Black Cards of Each Author
All Articles from the Series
Best Cards in Modern – Multicolor 
We asked our seasoned team of authors a tough question: What do they think are the best ten multicolored cards in Magic the Gathering's Modern format. We then went a step further and created a Top 5. Learn what they think about the very best cards of one of the game's most popular formats.
Best Cards in Modern – Lands 
We asked our seasoned team of authors a tough question: What do they think are the best ten lands in Magic the Gathering's Modern format. We then went a step further and created a Top 5. Learn what they think about the very best cards of one of the game's most popular formats.
Best Cards in Modern – Artifacts 
We asked our seasoned team of authors a tough question: What do they think are the best ten artifacts in Magic the Gathering's Modern format. We then went a step further and created a Top 5. Learn what they think about the very best cards of one of the game's most popular formats.
Best Cards in Modern – White 
We asked our seasoned team of authors a tough question: What do they think are the best ten white cards in Magic the Gathering's Modern format. We then went a step further and created a Top 5. Learn what they think about the very best cards of one of the game's most popular formats.
Best Cards in Modern – Green 
We asked our seasoned team of authors a tough question: What do they think are the best ten green cards in Magic the Gathering's Modern format. We then went a step further and created a Top 5. Learn what they think about the very best cards of one of the game's most popular formats.
Best Cards in Modern – Red 
We asked our seasoned team of authors a tough question: What do they think are the best ten red cards in Magic the Gathering's Modern format. We then went a step further and created a Top 5. Learn what they think about the very best cards of one of the game's most popular formats.
Best Cards in Modern – Black 
We asked our seasoned team of authors a tough question: What do they think are the best ten black cards in Magic the Gathering's Modern format. We then went a step further and created a top 5. Learn what they think about the very best cards of one of the game's most popular formats.
Best Cards in Modern – Blue 
We asked our seasoned team of authors a tough question: What do they think are the best ten blue cards in Magic the Gathering's Modern format. We then went a step further and created a top 5. Learn what they think about the very best cards of one of the game's most popular formats.