Devotion to Black and Blue for TCGplayer States

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
10/8/2013 10:01:00 AM
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Theros Standard offers a wide assortment of archetype options. Things are much more interesting than the stereotypical black-and-white metagame of Monored Aggro versus UW Control that the first weekend of tournament results indicated. Each color in the wheel brings with it a particular set of unique and powerful cards to the table. There is enough space in the format for a variety of different archetypes to carve their own niche in the metagame. The past few weekends have been filled with Standard events, and looked at together they feature a variety of competitive archetypes utilizing all the different shades of the Magic color spectrum. Today I will share a couple of the more rogue and unique monocolored decks that have reached the elimination rounds in various Standard tournaments since Theros has been legal.

One of the most intriguing decks is a new take on an old favorite: monoblack control. This archetype has been seen since the earliest days of Magic, through the age of Necropotence, and to the Standard heyday during the era of Torment, a set tailor-made to showcase the most macabre of Magic colors. The Torment-era monoblack control deck has been attempted time and time again, but no new builds have ever mirrored the wide-spread success of good ole' days. The deck has often been ever so close and “almost good enough,” so with every new set the fanatics try again with a new batch of black cards. In a Theros world that fully supports monocolored decks, the time for monoblack control may have come again.

Ashton Johnson's monoblack build from the TCGplayer Qualifier in Texas this past weekend takes full advantage of what Theros has to offer monocolored decks:

Monoblack Control by Ashton Johnson
Finished 5th - 8th Place at Standard Silver TCQ - Huntsville, TX - 10/5/13
Main Deck
Sideboard
1 Abhorrent Overlord
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Lifebane Zombie
2 Shadowborn Demon
Creatures [15]
4 Corrupt
4 Doom Blade
2 Hero's Downfall
2 Read the Bones
1 Rescue from the Underworld
3 Thoughtseize
2 Underworld Connections
2 Whip of Erebos
Spells [20]
2 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
23 Swamp
Lands [25]
Deck Total [60]


2 Devour Flesh
3 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Gift of Orzhova
2 Hero's Downfall
3 Pack Rat
1 Rescue from the Underworld
1 Thoughtseize
1 Ultimate Price
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!

The core of this deck is a suite of black disruption spells that Deprive the opponent of resources and interrupt their game plan. Thoughtseize is the headliner, and it gives this deck a unique edge over decks without the discard spell. Thoughtseize can be used to disrupt any aspect of the opposing game plan or remove any threat. A modest removal package of Doom Blade and Hero's Downfall is important to slow the opponent in the early game and create tempo swings against more expensive creatures. A card advantage package split between Underworld Connections and Read the Bones is critical in winning the attrition battle this deck wages against its opponents.

The creature package is designed to further disrupt the opponent. A full set of Lifebane Zombie is very potent against the metagame and will create card advantage against a majority of the format. Lifebane Zombie also shines as an evasive three-powered threat against non-black opponents. Higher up the curve, Shadowborn Demon is a new-age Flametongue Kavu that will deal with most any threat from the opponent. Both Lifebane Zombie and Shadowborn Demon are quite potent threats in their own right while still offering great defensive capabilities. Bridging the gap between these creatures on the mana curve is Desecration Demon. In addition to being evasive, Desecration Demon is also a very robust threat. The large size makes it immune to any individual burn spell, while the black color makes it immune to much targeted removal. Desecration Demon shuts down most attackers on defense and will fight through most every blocker.

This deck is strongly devoted to black, and with this devotion comes benefits. Grey Merchant of Asphodel provides a strong incentive to stay monoblack and fill the deck with powerful, undercosted black creatures; the early black drops pave the way for a black-devotion powered Drain Life. A typical 3-4-5 spell curve ending in Grey Merchant of Asphodel will result in a 12-point life swing. This swing is massive in the aggressive matchups, and in racing situations it turns the clock squarely in the favor of the evasive black creatures. This sort of swing is reminiscent of another five-drop aggro killer: Thragtusk. In multiples Grey Merchant of Asphodel is a plan in itself. A single copy of Abhorrent Overlord converts devotion into a massive board presence that will win the game outright if not answered immediately, all the while leaving a token swarm even if the Demon itself is answered.

Supporting the core creature plan is an assortment of powerful black spell. Whip of Erebos fits perfectly into the deck For starters, it is a reliable permanent that provides two devotion. The combination with Underworld Connection gives the deck a solid package of noncreature permanents to provide devotion to black. Whip of Erebos is extremely effective in this deck filled with enter-the-battlefield abilities. The Whip will create value with the majority of the creatures in this deck when recurred from the graveyard. In the endgame of attrition matchups, Whip of Erebos will quickly end the game with a stream of evasive creatures and life drain from the graveyard. Against aggressive decks, the lifegain ability Whip of Erebos plays perfectly into the game plan of racing with evasive creatures.

Rescue from the Underworld is a surprise capable of creating massive card advantage when paired with two comes-into-play creatures. It seems really exciting when targeting two Grey Merchant of Asphodel to generate a massive life swing, but it does solid work in a variety of situations. A second copy in the sideboard provides even more value against slower opponents.

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The endgame plan of this monoblack deck is built around Corrupt. Corrupt is often used as simple removal spell to clear out a particularly threatening creature. In other situations Corrupt is useful for eliminating opposing planeswalkers. Corrupt is most impressive when used as a massive Fireball to close out the game. Combined with Grey Merchant of Asphodel, Corrupt provides a critical mass of lifedrain to the opponent that will be responsible for a great deal of victories. The massive lifegain can buy a lot of time against aggressive decks. Corrupt was a key component of the Torment-era monoblack control deck, and it harkens back to a power-level in spells not often printed today. This deck takes full advantage and gains much of its power from the spell first seen in Urza's Saga.

Bringing everything together is a pair of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. This deck does not play anything in particular to sink a ton of mana into, but it is relatively mana intensive. The monoblack deck in Torment took advantage of Cabal Coffers. This card was extremely powerful in the all-Swamp deck deck was a key reason why the deck would eventually overpower even its blue opponents. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx provides a significant level of extra mana production for the monoblack midrange deck and enables it to take advantage of its variety of card-advantage capabilities.

The sideboard of the monoblack deck holds some powerful and effective cards.

Erebos, God of the Dead is a particularly potent sideboard card for winning attrition battles against slower decks. Exchanging life and mana for cards is not a great proposition in the fast-paced aggressive matchups, but this sort of card advantage will dominate games against decks like UW Control and other midrange black and red based control decks.

Pack Rat is a limited bomb but can be just as effective in constructed. An unanswered Pack Rat on turn two will win the game by itself, making it a potent sideboard card against decks light on creature removal. Pack Rat also helps this deck change gears and sideboard into a more aggressively-focused deck against susceptible opponents.

Gift of Orzhova is a very effective card against the aggressive decks in the format, particularly red decks. This enchantment slapped onto an evasive creature creates a race-winning monstrosity. The Selesnya decks sideboard Unflinching Courage, while this monoblack deck gets access to the evasion-providing Gift of Orzhova.

As far as its place in the metagame, this monoblack deck seems to be pretty well positioned. The midrange deck could have a hard time against the most aggressive rush decks, but it holds plenty of options for cheap creature removal. As games go long, the card advantage in this deck will allow it to compete with the control decks. The power cards within allow it to go over the top of other midrange decks. If the metagame continues to evolve away from the cheapest and most aggressive decks and towards a more balanced midrange metagame, the monoblack deck becomes more appealing.

Another monocolored deck that has caught my attention this week is Monoblue Fish. I found a list that has put up results on Magic-league, a place I often turn to for a heads-up on the Standard metagame. Master of Waves has brought with it the promise of a new era of monoblue aggressive decks in Standard. The card provides a huge payoff for devotion, arguably the biggest payoff found in Theros. The massive board presence and card advantage provided by Master of Waves is powerful enough to compete with anything else out there. The problem of course is finding a competitive shell for Master of Waves. The following deck has provided just that:

Monoblue Devotion by voltageaav
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Cloudfin Raptor
4 Frostburn Weird
3 Judge's Familiar
4 Master of Waves
3 Nightveil Specter
3 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Tidebinder Mage
Creatures [25]
2 Bident of Thassa
2 Blustersquall
3 Cyclonic Rift
4 Hands of Binding
Spells [11]
24 Island
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]


3 AEtherling
1 Cancel
2 Curse of the Swine
4 Dissolve
1 Mutavault
2 Negate
2 Wall of Frost
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!

The key to making a monoblue fish-style deck work is a strong core of cheap, aggressive creatures. Historically this creature core has often been Merfolk, hence the fish moniker, but any efficient creatures will do the job. This deck generally takes on the aggro-control role. It backs up early aggression with disruption such as bounce and Counterspells that allow the early threats to win the game. This style of deck was last seen in Standard in the form of Delver.

Current Standard has a surprisingly strong core of blue creatures. The headliner is Cloudfin Raptor, a one-drop threat capable of becoming a massive flier. Cloudfin Raptor is the Delver of Secrets of this deck holds the same potential if it hits play on the first turn. Judge's Familiar is a cheap threat that also offers a form of disruption a la Cursecatcher.

Tidebinder Mage looks to be no more than a grizzly bear, but against red and green creature decks it acts as a removal spell. The strongest decks in Standard right now, the aggressive core of the format, is composed of red and/or green-based creature decks. Against these decks Tidebinder Mage is extremely useful, and thus Tidebinder Mage is potent hate-bear that earns space in the maindeck.

Frostburn Weird is a limited star that finally has an opportunity to shine in Standard. The large body makes it an excellent blocker against a wide range of attackers. In this monocolored deck the pump ability becomes an excellent sink for extra mana. A 4/1 Frostburn Weird is a very fast clock and will end the game quickly on a clear board.

Nightveil Specter proved to be a potent source of card advantage in block. This monoblue, mono-Island deck can consistently pay the prohibitive mana cost and take advantage of the power. The evasive flying body is also excellent for finishing off the opponent after the board has been clogged with creatures.

In addition to Master of Waves, devotion to blue also provides access to Thassa, God of the Sea. This three-drop god comes at a discount compared to the other gods in the set, making it a much more potent aggressive threat. This creature-laden devotion deck can consistently attack with Thassa, God of the Sea by the fourth turn. The unblockable ability is potent when paired with a 5/5 creature and will win the game within a few turns. The unblockable ability is also useful with the other creatures and offers a way to push through damage at any stage of the game. The scry ability on Thassa, God of the Sea provides a steady stream of quality cards that allow this deck to compete with any amount of attrition and creature removal.

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The monoblue deck also plays a strong core of blue disruption spells. The deck leaves the Counterspells for the sideboard, instead turning to a variety of bounce and tap spells. Cyclonic Rift is a flexible disruption spell capable of creating tempo against creatures and planeswalkers. Hands of Binding has not often been seen in constructed but looks to be useful in this deck. When paired with a creature, Hands of Binding will remove the most threatening creature from the other side of the board and keep it out of commission for the rest of the game. Blustersquall is a haymaker that will often end the game. It often functions as something like a Fog plus Overrun in racing situations. It is most effective for tapping down opposing creatures before they attack, therefore leaving the path open for monoblue creatures to alpha strike for the win.

The final support card for the deck is Bident of Thassa. Bident of Thassa turns each creature into a repeatable source of card advantage that must be answered. The typical answer to attackers - blockers - becomes neutralized by the activated ability of Bident of Thassa, which makes it an extremely useful tactical tool in creature matchups. Bident of Thassa is also an important noncreature source of devotion that stays in play even in the face of massive creature removal.

The core of the sideboard is Counterspells that come in against the slower, spell-based decks. Wall of Frost is a solid blocker against aggressive decks that helps with devotion. Curse of the Swine is an unexpected way to completely Decimate the board of a green-based opponent. AEtherling and Mutavault come in to create a powerful top-end to create inevitability against the removal-heavy opponents.

The monoblue devotion deck offers great consistency with a solid, aggressive core. The shell is not as proven as decks like monored or monogreen but it offers different strengths and weaknesses. The monoblue deck is not optimal for playing against the fastest aggressive creature decks, but it will perform quite well against more clunky midrange decks, where cards like Thassa will shine. The deck even has plenty of game against monored because of the powerful Master of Waves. The combination of cheap threats combined with disruption should will also be potent against control decks, particularly post sideboard after all of the Counterspells come in.

The decks I shared today show that even the less obvious colors offer powerful options for the devotion-minded. Staying monocolored offers many benefits in the world of Theros, and each color offers its own unique set of advantages. I look forward to exploring monocolored decks in Theros and am excited to see what deck lists I'll have to share next week.

-Adam




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