Even before Gabe Carleton-Barnes's PTQ win (which we talked about previously a bit in Make the Play Monday - Thriller and Flores Rewards Friday - Thriller) I had already become a fan of Monoblack Aggro in Standard.
If I had a big Standard event I am pretty certain that it is the archetype I would play.
It comes out with a first-turn two-power creature with good regularity, and its many instant speed answers make catching up with the lead that it already has quite tough. Most straightforward decks “playing fair” get beat up for a few turns and then try to play a bigger creature to stabilize...which is great for a deck with overpowered early drops that can get blockers out of the way. The Monoblack Aggro deck is even better against big spell sweeper decks, as cards like Thoughtseize and Duress can pre-empt Supreme Verdict, and black can play a bigger game than Sphinx's Revelation by sticking the indestructible Erebos, God of the Dead while the opponent is tapped. Though Monoblack Aggro seems like a simple and straightforward strategy, it has more play than some realize, taking on aspects of a Red Deck at times. Probably my favorite angle on the deck is enchanting a Tormented Hero with a Herald of Torment (the mondo combo is even there already in the name) to glue together a Shock and a Hell's Thunder. Its reach is something that some players won't see, and therefore won't play around.
The thing I like second-most is just swinging with Thrill-Kill Assassin into whatever. Sylvan Caryatid (which is generally speaking, the bane of small creature beatdown decks in Standard) can't hold off Thrill-Kill Assassin; or at least not for very long. Thrill-Kill Assassin (including on defense) sort of invalidates more expensive threats and answers, Tarmogoyf-style, which is a recurring theme with Monoblack Aggro.
So I've been tinkering with the Monoblack Aggro archetype and playing it quite a bit in Magic Online tournaments. My changes largely reflect comments that Larry Swasey and Josh Ravitz have made on Facebook threads. Plus a fairly basic modification inspired by Gabe's excellent tournament report.
Monoblack Aggro Update:
The core changes here are to add the 24th land (including a total upgrade to four Temples) in order to play two more copies of Desecration Demon. You end up siding in Erebos, God of the Dead against beatdown decks fairly often to stay even with cards like Fiendslayer Paladin and Unflinching Courage, so you really do need to hit four lands, especially under pressure. At the same time, you don't want to hit more than five lands in very many games (and five really just to Bestow Herald of Torment), so the ability to push away excess lands is useful. Because this deck doesn't play Nightveil Specter I don't think it really matters what Temple you run. Perhaps running a mix would throw off an opponent's read of your list.
Per my aforestated admiration of Thrill-Kill Assassin, I went to all four copies in the main deck.
Cuts were Pack Rat and Pain Seer. Gabe only played one Pack Rat and said it was his weakest attacker. Larry said on Facebook that Pain Seer wasn't what he wanted to be doing. For my part, I had a lot of Pain Seers hanging out back home, not attacking; to the point that I might have considered Rakdos Shred-Freak in another life.
But Josh's suggestion to play four Temples and four Desecration Demons solved tuning the “which creature” dilemma for me overall.
The other big change was to add Pharika's Cure to the sideboard. In his tournament report Gabe stated that Red Decks can be terrible matchups. I have found both various styles of RDW and RW Aggro or Burn decks are favorable matchups for this version of Monoblack Aggro. Individual games can be tense but I've been very happy with tournament performances there. Basically Pharika's Cure against little guys like Ash Zealot buys a ton of time while you are swinging back. If the Red Deck tries to use a more powerful creature to hold of your weenies, it Just Dies To Doom Blade; if they point direct damage on whatever creatures you present, it is often inefficiently done (say Lightning Strike against a Rakdos Cackler, which wastes a point of damage); ultimately you put out a Desecration Demon and mop it all up.
The card that is surprisingly great against straight red is Lifebane Zombie. On the play it is not unusual to steal a Burning-Tree Emissary; and overall you end up with a lot of disabled Boros Reckoners.
The enemy of Monoblack Aggro is Blood Baron of Vizkopa. There is nothing reliable you can do about Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Devour Flesh basically never hits one; which is one of the reasons very few people play Devour Flesh in this archetype.
My most major sideboard cut was Dark Betrayal. Dark Betrayal does what you want it to do, and for a very low cost, but I think you get some back with Pharika's Cure. Pharika's Cure doesn't kill the 2/3 Nightveil Specter, let alone any of the big guys, but Ultimate Price and Hero's Downfall kill most of those threats anyway. Pharika's Cure actually has some text against Pack Rat and is in some ways superior to Dark Betrayal in a mirror match.
Anyway, it's not like Dark Betrayal can kill Blood Baron of Vizkopa, despite its being black. And outside of a Red Deck, Blood Baron of Vizkopa is the scariest thing in the format for Monoblack Aggro.
All of this brings us to this week's Make the Play (which is actually based on something that happened in an actual MTGO queue last week):
It is game one and you are on the play. You don't know what deck the opponent is yet.
This is your opening hand:
Not an unbeatable opening hand, but good enough to keep against an unknown opponent I think.
Your opponent takes two trips to Paris before settling on a fiver.
Two-part answer: 1) Make your turn one play(s). 2) Outline your thinking / planned plays around turn two.
I and a returning, beloved, celebrity guest will be giving our responses on Friday!
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