In the past Mono Black has been a powerful deck in Standard, recently we’ve seen a Mono Black aggro deck doing at least well enough in league play on MTGO, but the more popular versions of Mono Black have been more of a control build. With premium removal at your disposal in the color, it just seems natural that one would want to pack the deck with enough removal to deal with your opponent’s threats, and when control is firmly in place, dropping a hard to deal with creature. In Theros block, when Mono Black Devotion was one one of the best decks, we really cared about mana symbols, thanks to cards like Gray Merchant of Asphodel. The deck lacked a card like Damnation or Mutilate, and the life gain from that card helped buy you more time against the aggro decks of the format. The deck that I am presenting today is much more reminiscent of Odyssey Block era Mono Black Control. Of course the deck lacks really powerful spells such as Mind Sludge, Skeletal Scrying and Mutilate, it does have some nice call backs to Nantuko Shade and Cabal Coffers.
Getting to the call backs first, Dread Shade is a 3/3 for BBB. It has the same pump ability as most shade creatures in Magic, but it’s body is is much better. Frozen Shade was a 0/1 for 2B, Looming Shade was the same cost for a 1/1. The big deal about Dread Shade is that it can come into play early, but also protect itself against damage based removal spells. It’s really hard to kill a 3/3 with Lightning Strike if the creature in question can make itself a 4/4 for one more mana. The second callback in the deck is Cabal Stronghold. This is more of a fixed version of Cabal Coffers. It costs one more to activate, and only counts basic Swamps, but can provide you with a bump in mana, which is important for the expensive spells and creatures in the deck. While it would have been nice to have a Coffers reprint, it probably would have been to strong for Standard.
Let’s talk about the creatures in the deck. Gifted Aetherborn is a nice two drop that blocks well, gaining life and trading up because of deathtouch. It can effectively serve as a Moat against some matchups. Mono Red really does not want you to gain life, and the green decks really do not want to trade their super cool monsters for a 2/3. It may never gain life or kill a thing, but what it does is give you time to set up the end game creatures. Demonlord Belzenlok is one of those payoffs. A giant 6/6 flying, trampling monster for 6 mana when it comes in to play you reveal cards until you reveal a non land card. If that card costs more than 4, you do it again. You take 1 damage for each card drawn this way, which seems like a small price to pay for drawing more action! Josu Vess, Lich Knight is the next payoff, at 4 mana it’s a 4/5 with menace, which isn’t the most terrible thing. At ten mana though, Liliana’s brother brings 8 2/2 Zombie Knights to the battlefield! 20 power for ten mana seems like a fine trade off, and with Cabal Stronghold, we can get that into play sooner than turn ten. Walking Ballista is the final creature in the deck, it’s scaleable, able to come down early against aggro, or as a machine gun in the late game, Ballista truly is one of the best creatures printed in recent memory.
Removal makes up a large part of the deck. There are 14 removal spells. Cast Down is here, as is Fatal Push, two of the best cheap removal spells in the format. Vraska’s Contempt is around to kill creatures or Planeswalkers, and Never does the same thing, but at sorcery speed and one mana cheaper. It also does not exile, so it’s not really the same thing, unless you just need to get rid of something and it does not matter if it goes to the graveyard or not. Karn, Scion of Urza is the decks Underworld Connections. It may not be reliable card draw, but it is card drawish with the first ability. The second ability allows you to put a card with a Silver counter on it in to your hand, so even if your opponent denies you the super good card that you revealed, it’s possible to get it back anyways. Karn’s minus 2 ability is not super, but in a pinch with Walking Ballista, it can create another blocker at least?
If you like big mana mono black decks, or enjoyed the strategy when Cabal Coffers was legal in Standard, I would recommend giving this deck a chance. It’s just enough of a nostalgic throwback to older players, but powerful enough to compete in today’s Standard!
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