Mono Black in Standard

Feature Article from Conley Woods
Conley Woods
11/19/2010 10:21:00 AM
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Mono Black has always been one of those archetypes that people love to try and typically fail in succeeding. Black has been home to so many cards that check your Swamp count or your Black mana count that it is natural to want to take advantage of that. Mono Black control went the way of the dodo basically after Cabal Coffers left the building and it is still waiting to receive its encore. Recently however, mono Black has had a mini revival in the form of Vampires.

While the deck was never really control, the combination of Bloodghasts and Vampire Nocturnus was too powerful to ignore and the casual player and competitive player were united for a brief year. Once M11 was released though, the deck seemed to Crumble pretty quickly as the amazing lord it once had took a big demotion and pay cut. People have still tried though, even as recently as 2 weeks ago Caleb brought the tribe back out to play in the form of a sacrifice shell:

Mono Black by Conley Woods
Main Deck
4 Bloodghast
4 Bloodthrone Vampire
3 Gatekeeper of Malakir
4 Kalastria Highborn
4 Pawn of Ulamog
4 Pulse Tracker
4 Vampire Lacerator
4 Viscera Seer
Creatures [31]
3 Blade of the Bloodchief
4 Vendetta
Spells [7]
4 Marsh Flats
14 Swamp (238)
4 Verdant Catacombs
Lands [22]
Deck Total [60]

4 Dark Tutelage
1 Disfigure
4 Doom Blade
1 Gatekeeper of Malakir
2 Skinrender
3 Smother
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

This list is a little more combo than traditional vampires, but it still illustrates the point that the little Black guys can get the job done still. Before I get too far down the track of Vampires though, I should point out that this is not an article about the blood suckers. While they may play an important part in the slice of the Black color pie currently, and even in the deck list that will be proposed, this will not be a tribal deck by any means. The tribe does tend to personify what I think Black can do really well right now.

Standard has devolved into a series of decks that are either aggressive to the point of having little other identity, or slower mana intensive decks like ramp and more traditional control. The aggro decks tend to prey on the slower decks, although those slower decks have definitely taken some measures to defend against the Boros, mono Red, Elves, or mono White contingent. The key here is that the measures taken are not necessarily good against aggro in general, but rather just those decks specifically.

This means that there is certainly an angle to attack such decks by playing aggressive decks that look to avoid the common defenses of the mid-rangy decks in the format. This leaves the aggro decks as a final hurdle though. One of the best ways to defeat aggressive decks has always been to go bigger than them but still maintain some semblance of speed. This was true when Gruul was beating up Boros and Zoo back in the days of Ravnica, to the time when Baneslayer Angel allowed Extended Zoo decks to beat the Wild Nacatls out of the mirror just a year ago. The strategy hardly seems outdated, which gives us a direction to move in.

Putting these concepts together we can theoretically arrive at a deck that attacks the metagame in an unexpected manner. Basically, we are looking to embrace an aggro strategy that goes beyond the typical aggressive creatures in both size and function. This can be difficult as we still need to stay fast and aggressive or else our match up against the slower decks will suffer. Going back to that little Black intro, we can utilize the tools that Black has to accomplish this best. Black offers some aggressive options that come with built in card advantage or removal, which is what we need to go over the top of other aggro strategies.

Lets look at some specific cards to get us started here. Vampires are the natural starting point as they supply aggressive creatures with upside even without dipping into a tribal based deck. Gatekeeper of Malakir is the post child here, as he offers a valuable effect against a majority of the metagame while not being the most irrelevant of creatures on the battlefield. Whether he is taking out a Steppe Lynx, a Trinket Mage, or a Titan, he is getting some value at most points in a game. We will need to supplement him with further removal in order to make him his most effective, but he seems like a natural inclusion for the type of deck we are looking at.

Moving down the tribe, Vampire Hexmage is the next logical stop. The Hexmage is an aggressive option at 2 that is able to provide late game value pretty easily. He obviously can deal with the Jaces that so many of the decks look to maximize right now. Beyond that though, there are other targets prime for the shrinking. Everflowing Chalice, Pyromancer's Ascension, Quest for the Holy Relic, Ratchet Bomb, or Koth are all waiting to get in the ring with a Vampire Hexmage, but little do they know, the match is rigged in favor of the Vampire. First Strike is hardly irrelevant right now either, as Goblin Guides, Trinket Mages, Creeping Tar Pits, and Lotus Cobras are seeing play in a majority of decks.

Vampire Lacerator is talking about as the premier Black one drop right now, although we may not end up needing it. If we do turn to the Lacerator, it will be for curve purposes as the card does not provide the type of inherent advantage that our other vampires are able to.

Vampire Nighthawk on the other hand, may be worth the trouble. While the flier does not come with a 2 for 1 like a Gatekeeper, it does provide a solid body against aggressive decks and a deathtoucher that may dissuade various 6/6s from rumbling over into the red zone. The simple fact that a Nighthawk flies at all is a pretty big deal in this format as ground creatures have taken over in a fairly dominate manner.

Nantuko Shade is an option as a creature that can battle with a Titan in the late game while discouraging blockers like Overgrown Battlement early on. Again, there is not a lot of hidden value to this one, but it does allow you to have a creature that is both aggressive and large when it needs to be. If we are needing additional two-drops for the deck, this is a good place to turn.

The four-drop slot is perhaps the most crowded which is a bit awkward as we probably only want 6 total creatures in this area, so I will just mention each option briefly. Skinrender, Molten Tail Masticore, Lodestone Golem, and Abyssal Persecutor are the stand outs here. Each one offers a little something for the deck. The Skinrender and Masticore offer decent sized bodies with removal attached, which as we have discussed before, can be a valuable thing to conserve deck space. The Golem and Persecutor offer bigger bodies with board impact that goes beyond removal. The Golem is probably the most awkward as we have no other mana denial cards and the Persecutor demands some interactions to be playable, but all four of these are valid options.

Our spells need to supplement our creature package in a way that clears a path both in our opponent's hand and on the battlefield, but luckily we have the tools for this. I really appreciate the power level that Mind Sludge can bring to this type of deck. We need other hand disruption, like Inquisition of Kozilek or Duress, specifically to make sure the backbreaking Mind Sludge is ready to take full effect but also to slow down decks like Pyromancer Ascension or U/B Control.

As far as removal is concerned, we want to make sure we do not corner ourselves into a situation where we only have removal for the little guys, or big ones for that matter. This makes Doom Blade the most likely conclusion, especially since Persecutor only has synergy with Consuming Vapors, and even maxed out at 4, having only 8 ways to dispatch your 6/6 can be too risky in an aggressive shell.

Bringing this together, we arrive at something like this:

Mono Black v2 by Conley Woods
Main Deck
2 Bloodhusk Ritualist
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
1 Liliana's Specter
3 Molten-Tail Masticore
4 Nantuko Shade
2 Skinrender
4 Vampire Hexmage
3 Vampire Nighthawk
Creatures [23]
3 Doom Blade
1 Duress
4 Grim Discovery
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
Spells [12]
2 Bojuka Bog
4 Marsh Flats
11 Swamp (238)
4 Tectonic Edge
4 Verdant Catacombs
Lands [25]
Deck Total [60]

2 Bojuka Bog
1 Consuming Vapors
2 Disfigure
3 Liliana's Specter
3 Lodestone Golem
2 Memoricide
1 Skinrender
1 Vampire Nighthawk
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

As you can pretty easily see, we took some liberty with our choices that weren't discussed prior to the deck list, but this was done semi-intentionally to demonstrate an important aspect of deck building that does not happen often enough. Just because we had a rough map of where we wanted to go with the original list does not mean we should not revisit other options in the future. So many players build on a linear that they miss important card choices or interactions and it ultimately costs them wins.

We had not thought about the prospect of Grim Discovery or Liliana's Specter but that does not mean they are not good fits for the deck. Always be willing to check your work and edit it as necessary. You will often reveal new interactions when you actually do go to build the deck that calls for cards previously dismissed to be brought up in conversation once again.

As for those two changes, we were able to add more card advantage into our deck which supports us against basically everything. Tectonic Edge was a pretty easy choice for this mono colored deck, and with all of the creatures who have an impact when entering the battlefield, Grim Discovery seemed to add a significant interaction to the deck that would otherwise need to be filled by Sign in Blood. Sign in Blood is obviously good, but it does not serve the role with as much finesse or raw synergy as the Discovery does.

Mind Sludge was a 2 of in the original concept, but with the addition of Grim Discovery and the need for an additional creature, Bloodhusk Ritualist seemed like a fine starting point. If he proves too many hungry, we can swap him out later, but especially with the full suite of Specters coming in post board and the 5 Duress effects main, he seemed like he would be a nice addition.

The mana base is pretty straightforward now that Grim Discovery has been added to the mix. The one exception here is Bojuka Bog. With 25 lands in our deck, we want to make sure our lands actually do something more than just tap for mana. Bojuka Bog allows us to free up some sideboard space while providing a relevant ability in the current Standard. Vengevines, Pyromancer Ascension, and Elixir of Immortality are all potent maindeck cards at this point, and that is not even looking at the fringe cards like the Bloodghasts listed above. We may not need the full 4 after board, but we give up so little in order to have them that they seem fine. Nihil Spellbomb is acceptable, but I thought that the land would be more consistent overall.

This list falls on the more aggressive side of a mid-range deck, but its principle attack plan is the same. We are looking to disrupt whatever is most valuable to the opponent and capitalize on the ensuing stumble by going for the throat if you will (Vampires like to do this anyway it turns out).

In the case of aggressive decks, we are looking to trip their creature development up through a slew of two for ones which this deck can accomplish very reliably. Once that trap has been set, the various bears, Shades, and 4 drops can take over a game with ease. The sideboard only supplements this plan and allows us to take on an even more control like approach should we need to.

Meanwhile, in the land of mana ramp and counterspells, we are looking to attack their resources from a multitude of angles. The hand is the easiest thing to attack with 5 pinpoint discard spells, Specters, and a few Ritualists, we can dramatically Tinker with their original spell and land layout, buying ourselves just a little extra time to get in some much needed damage.

We simultaneously get to punish them even further by messing with what few lands they are allowed to keep through the discard spells by hitting them with our Edges or Golems. This plan becomes powerful when you consider that creature removal and Hexmages tend to act as mana denial at various times as well. Grim Discovery really allows this plan to be effective as we will tend to always have gas left in the tank.

This deck simply showcases an angle that needs to be explored when the format becomes clearly defined. This metagame is not clearly defined in that you will know every deck you run up against, but instead, it is defined in that the strategies you will encounter will tend to fall into the 2 opposite angles of either aggro or mana intensive strategies. Deck builders need to constantly be looking to exploit every bit of knowledge they have in an effort to get a leg up on the rest of the field. While this deck is likely far from perfect in its current form, the base is there to be tweaked and melded into a metagame machine. As always, thanks for reading.

--Conley Woods--

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