Black Summer

In early June 1995. Wizards of the Coast released Ice Age, a standalone expansion meant to be played on its own. One of the most infamous cards from the set is a black enchantment known as Necropotence.

Originally, the card was dismissed to be bad and unplayable and to the untrained eye it does look like a really bad card, here’s the oracle text for Necropotence.

Skip your draw step.
Whenever you discard a card, exile 
that card from your graveyard.
Pay 1 life: Exile the top card of your library 
face down. Put that card into your hand at 
the beginning of your next end step.

Let’s dissect this card line by line shall we?

Skip your draw step is a bad ability, drawing cards is what generates advantage in Magic and not being able to do that is what makes this card seem really bad.

“Whenever you discard a card, exile that card from your graveyard.”
Another drawback, the graveyard is also more or less a resource at this point, nothing stays in the graveyard. There are lots of ways to recur your cards from your graveyard, cards with Flashback and Threshold rely on the graveyard being able to be filled in the first place.

“Pay 1 life: Exile the top card of your library face down. Put that card into your hand at the beginning of your next end step.”
This last ability is essentially what made the card so powerful, paying 1 life to essentially refill your hand is ridiculous. Our life is a resource in the game too, this is one of the many reasons why other cards like Shocklands and Fetches are so commonly used in eternal formats. Not only that, winning at 1 life makes no difference with winning at 20 life so the draw effect is extremely useful, even if you only draw at the end of the turn.

Necropotence originally saw little play, the rampant Black Vise decks discouraged the use of the black enchantment since drawing only means that you will just be dealt more damage on top of the life requirement for Necropotence. But after Black Vise was restricted to one per deck, the enchantment started seeing more play. Then in the summer of 1996, the deck went all out. It dominated the standard format earning the summer of 1996 the nickname “Black Summer” where the meta at the time only had two decks. Those running Necropotence and those that were attempting to counter Necropotence, not long after its dominance, the DCI decided to ban Necropotence, effectively ending its reign in standard.

The deck itself is an extremely aggressive deck, running cards like Lake of the Dead to pump out a lot of mana, then using cards like Order of the Ebon Hand for the early game. Necropotence then would also go fetch more swamps to pump the Lake even faster then using the mana for Drain Life which in turn gives you more life to run Necropotence. The deck was made famous by Randy Buehler in the 1997 Pro Tour Chicago. Then in 2008 Mike Flores named the Necropotence deck to be the best deck in the Extended format.

The card later inspired cards like Yawgmoth’s Bargain and Griselbrand, the two cards share a similar mechanic to that of Necropotence, paying life to draw cards. Yawgmoth’s Bargain was designed Mark Rosewater, inteded to be a fixed version of Necropotence, the card doubled its mana cost and made the card immediately go to your hand. What was not expected is that the card performed much better than expected, the card did not have the same restrictions as Necropotence making it even more powerful and almost breaking standard in the process. Now, Yawgmoth’s Baragin has had more restrictions and bannings than the infamous Necropotence.

Today, the card is still commonly used in Commander as a means to draw cards easily and quickly, it is restricted in Vintage and banned in both Legacy and 1v1 Commander. The card is an all star still, even being featured in From the Vault: Exiled, a From the Vault set featuring famous cards that were restricted or banned at one time. It was also printed in both Eternal Masters and Iconic Masters, both masters set aimed for eternal formats.

The card now is a reminder of how costing abilities and drawbacks can affect a card. While Necropotence has many drawbacks to it, the cost of 1 life per card is still extremely effective, even if you only get the card at the end step. The card is the hallmark card for Ice Age, probably one of the blocks’ best cards.

This has been Benji, signing off.

Last Article: The Function of Flavor
Next Article: Force