Despite what my bio at the bottom of this column states, my favorite black card has been, for a long time, Smallpox. Which I’ve written about. It’s a great test for how prepared any opponent is–including yourself. And the card asks dark questions about the game: What do you need, what do you require, to win? How do you prepare for a sudden lack of resources? How do you react? Are you willing to sacrifice your own mana to slow your opponent down? 

However, Smallpox is rapidly waning in my affections because of Tourach, Dread Cantor. How could it not? It’s more easy to cast at one colorless and one black. And it’s both an answer and a threat. One can play a 2/1 for it’s initial cost, or, kick it for 2B and make an opponent discard two cards randomly and permanently put a +1/+1 on Tourach for each card an opponent discards…and for the rest of the game. It is, yes, a beautiful call back to Hymn to Tourach, right down to the casting cost.  

Black’s metaphilosophy has always been to hurt others to help yourself. Or, alternatively, hurt yourself to help yourself. A big part of this outlook is discard. Discard is such a powerful ability, I would have to write a whole series of essays on it to do it justice (and maybe that’s what I’m doing…eh? eh?). In sixty card formats, Tourach’s kicker can be helpful. But I have moved away from all 1 vs. 1 formats recently. I’ve been playing two or three Commander decks with great intensity in order to know them inside and out. And my most recent build is a discard deck with Tourach as the commander. 

According to the MtG Wiki and lore:

Tourach and his followers were necromancers able to work great magics by means of sacrifice, often of their limbs, but sometimes of human lives

In the game, sacrifice is a keyword, yes. Though we can see how discard can equal this lore-based sacrifice when thinking of cards from the hand. Cards as a limb. Cards as a life. 

In some sense, I discarded my other Magic investments to play this one Commander deck led by Tourach. Is that a move made by a member of the Ebon Hand? Am I a dread cantor? Hardly. But I dig black’s rhetorical outlook because of the way it strives to remove obstacles through removal. Cutting down. Excision. Displacement. Magic can overwhelm a player in a swarming fashion. “Cardboard crack” they call it. One can immediately find themselves involved in any number of Magic games, formats, groups, leagues. Spending gold coin hand over cursed fist. Tourach is the patron saint of kicking bad habits. Of scaring people off with horrific hymns. Of cutting off that which offends thee. 

Tourach doesn’t want to go head to head; he is, essentially, weak. He needs a mass. A group. A cult. The card demands unthinking servitude from the obedient 99. Why? Because you can’t make someone discard fast enough. The sacrifice has to make an impact, of course! For black to do black’s best stuff, you want to make it sing. Hit the discard and hit it hard.

So, for example, this past weekend I was is a 3-pod. In my opening hand I had three Swamps and a Dark Deal, among other things. Turn 1: Swamp. Turn 2: Swamp, cast Tourach. Turn 3: Swamp, cast Dark Deal. When you wheel everyone, they are disoriented and angry. You’re catching people with lots of cards. So Tourach goes up to something like 14/13 on turn 3, and then you’re moving to combat. Did you have to dump your own hand? Hell yes–but who cares a whit? You got what you came for. Moreover, you probably picked up some more discard pieces.

That couldn’t happen in Modern in such a similar dramatic fashion. But it could happen in Commander. One of my opponents was so peeved with me that when my next turn came around, and I cast Virus Beetle, he threw down Pact of Negation on it without the ability to pay the cost. Just cause. He was burning the ground behind him on the way out. Tourach worked so effectively the past few weeks that my friend looked at me last Saturday and said, “You really like discard, don’t you?” I didn’t have to think about it. I do. But how many games have I won? Not many. But from black’s standpoint–that doesn’t matter. The goal is to derail plans. Seed doubt and misalliance. To make everything unstable. Including one’s hand. If you can’t trust what you’re holding, what can you trust?

Kyle Winkler (he/him) is a teacher and fiction writer. While he was pre-teen when Magic: The Gathering was released, he didn’t start playing until recently. He’s the author of the cosmic horror novella (The Nothing That Is), a collection of short stories (OH PAIN), and a novel (Boris Says the Words). His favorite card is a toss up between Crypt Rats and Oubliette

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