Two New Black-Based Midrange Decks in Standard

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
2/17/2017 11:02:00 AM
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So far black has proven itself the best color in Standard. Every deck in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Aether Revolt was black and seven of the eight decks in the Grand Prix Pittsburgh Top 8 were black. The lone top tier strategy in the format that is not black is Saheeli Copycat shells. This isn't particularly surprising since many of the format's best cards are black (Winding Constrictor, Unlicensed Disintegration, Fatal Push, etc). Today I'm going to showcase two strategies built around a shell of black cards that I have found to be particularly good against the current metagame. The primary theme of both decks is basically killing everything and gaining life in the process. We both know I prefer the white build over the red one, but objectively speaking I think they are of comparable power level.

Here is the common shell:

4 Gifted Aetherborn
4 Walking Ballista
2 Aethersphere Harvester
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Noxious Gearhulk
4 Fatal Push
2 Grasp of Darkness
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
2 Blighted Fen

Gifted Aetherborn, Aethersphere Harvester, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and Noxious Gearhulk provide the life gain mentioned, which can be valuable in winning races against Mardu Vehicles or the black-green decks. Kalitas is also especially good against Scrapheap Scrounger since it exiles opposing creatures when they would die. Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness are also great against both those strategies since each kills any of their early plays and both strategies are built on tempo. Walking Ballista is a way to handle multiple small threats or provide a reach threat for the late game or disrupt the Saheeli Rai combo. Liliana is the other way to handle low-toughness creatures such as Veteran Motorist, Toolcraft Exemplar, and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. It can also get a creature back from the graveyard later in the game or against decks with lots of removal and few creatures. Noxious Gearhulk and Ob Nixilis Reignited are good ways to deal with the final large creature the opponent plays, whether it is Verdurous Gearhulk, Torrential Gearhulk, or simply Depala, Pilot Exemplar. I call this the deck's Ob-Noxious end game. Blighted Fen is also especially good against Jeskai since it can easily kill the Torrential Gearhulk or the Felidar Guardian.

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Now let's consider how the two decks differ and the advantages of each.

One of the biggest differences is Unlicensed Disintegration versus Anguished Unmaking. Both do a pretty good job at killing big creatures and planeswalkers. The red one has higher upside, being able to potentially kill a planeswalker and a creature together in one swoop while the white one causes us to lose life instead of damaging the opponent, but it's more flexible in what it can kill, being able to also take out a Dynavolt Tower or Aetherworks Marvel in a pinch or a planeswalker with more than three loyalty.

Another big difference is Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Goblin Dark-Dwellers versus Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn. The former are better at killing creatures individually while the latter is better at pressuring the opponent or wiping an entire board of small creatures. I like the synergy between Walking Ballista and Archangel Avacyn, allowing her to transform when last counter is removed or even being able to play it for zero after the Avacyn to immediately transform her. On the other hand, I like the synergy between Transgress the Mind and Goblin Dark-Dwellers in post-board games against Jeskai decks, since being able to exile Glimmer of Genius from their hand is very good.

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The other big difference is that white gets Shambling Vent while red doesn't. White also gets Thraben Inspector, which is excellent at crewing Aethersphere Harvester or protecting Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Red offers more early interaction in the form of Shock, which also adds to our ability to disrupt the Saheeli Combo or kill a first-turn Toolcraft Exemplar. Pia Nalaar and Release the Gremlins can also swing games.

As I said, the strategy of both decks is to kill everything and gain life while also being able to go on offense or defense since it has a steady curve of the threats that can play both sides effectively. The lifelink makes it very difficult to race while the high removal count makes it difficult to keep up in an attrition fight if you're a strategy that attempts to win the game with creatures, which essentially encompasses every deck in the format, barring Dynavolt Tower control. Transgress the Mind is our best sideboard card as it replaces Fatal Push against the Torrential Gearhulk decks and the Elder Deep-Fiend decks, turning our worst card in those matchups into our best card.

I recommend trying out whichever one stands out to you more. The power level is similar in both and I like the positioning of this overall strategy right now in the metagame. I included a few video matches so you could see how each deck operates. The videos might give you a better idea of which one is more appealing to you.

Craig Wescoe

@Brimaz4Life

Author Outtake: I accidentally mistyped Fatal Push as “Fetal Push” and then later as “Fartal Push” while writing this article. Just thought I'd share that with you.




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