Spoilers come in, murmurings of Mono Black Control “being back” go out. You can’t explain that, but it happens just about every spoiler season like clockwork while the new cards trickle in. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just some damned obsession with wanting to play 24 basic Swamps in your deck against all odds. Ever since the set Torment was released and Mono Black Control ran rampant, brewers have been clamoring for its return as the disciples of a long dormant demon, awaiting its awakening once again. Time after time, this has not been the case. The end of this past Standard season got eerily close with the advent of the BG Rock deck featuring Mutilate, but surely splashing green for Thragtusk is too good to go unnoticed.
Despite Black’s history and in my infinite skepticism, I believe Black is incredibly strong given its current Standard presence on top of what we’ve seen of Theros. Dare I say it, Mono Black could be a viable strategy? Let’s weigh some of the pointers and approach this rationally.
It’s no secret- this is a great Magic Card. This isn’t guaranteed to be amazing all the time (i.e. in very aggressive formats) but unlike Duress or even Inquisition of Kozilek it’s incredibly safe to maindeck as you can pretty safely assume your opponent is playing non-lands in his or her deck. Playable 1-drops are hard to come by outside of aggressive decks, and having a turn one Thoughtseize is one of the greatest ways to start off a game. Allowing yourself perfect information to sculpt a gameplan while plucking the worst card for you to institute that plan is a bargain at 1 mana and 2 life. Got a hand with a lot of removal but not a great top-end? Leave ‘em with creatures. Need to buy some time to play your 4 mana bombs? Take whatever card that will slow your opponent down and buy you enough time. It’s pretty elementary stuff.
Now let’s talk about value. Can we talk about value for a second? You know how WoTC keeps printing these value creatures like Thragtusk, Voice of Resurgence, and Huntsmaster of the Fells? It’s been a theme for years to make creatures better to incentivize you to play more creature oriented games. The aforementioned creatures make removal spells, Black’s historical forte, downright embarrassing. Enter Lifebane Zombie, who for three Mana gets under most high-impact creatures and takes them before they can hit play, yielding no value. On top of that you get a 3/1 Intimidate, which is totally respectable. Who’s got the value now, chump?
Traditionally one of the major cruxes behind Mono Black falling short in today’s world is its lack of game against Planeswalkers. At Pro Tour Gatecrash Conley Woods played a nearly Mono Black deck based around the extreme mana generation of Crypt Ghast to power out ginormous spells such as Griselbrand. Even then he ended up playing some red for a set of Dreadbores to shore up his Planeswalker woes as well as provide access to a few other Red cards. Fret no more, Mr. Woods! Not only is this card a singular color to free yourself of those irrelevant Red mana symbols in your deck, but also is a better card at Instant speed. One extra mana goes a long way with this one.
(Edit: Can’t make a ‘the whip’ joke anymore. Thanks, Peter) This is an interesting card. It really struck me as pretty underwhelming when I first read it. Four mana is a lot to spend on something that’s only immediate effect is to give your current creatures lifelink. How many creatures do you expect to have out at this point in the game? One, two if you’re lucky? On top of that, the activated ability is a wee bit expensive for something that can only be done at Sorcery speed and exiles regardless of how it leaves play. No way to recur the same creature multiple time? That’s no fun.
But hold on, maybe we can?
One stay-at-home brewer discovered this one weird trick to get around exiling loopholes. Game Designers hate him. As it turns out, the Whip will exile cards regardless of how they leave play EXCEPT if the creature is being exiled as it leaves play. In that case, you get to choose which way it gets exiled. This choice usually doesn’t matter, unless one of the ways so happens to bring said creature back.
Enter Obzedat. While not normally a very killable creature, he interacts very favorably with the Whip of Erebos. For one, a 5/5 Lifelinker that drains for two a turn is a massive 14 point life swing, capable of putting you in the driver seat all by himself. Should your opponent be able to kill Obzedat via removal or double blocking, the Whip’s got your back and ready to bring him back and keep him back at a moment’s notice. The other convenient but usually-not-so-convenient thing about Obzedat is his two Black mana symbols, making Devotion cards that much more appealing.
In a vacuum Erebos, God of the Dead is pretty unexciting. Even as a lover of value, I still don’t think an overpriced Greed is really where you want to be at. Having your opponents not gain life is alright given the right metagame, but as it stands doesn’t do this card a lot of favors. However, with a healthy amount of lifegain and black mana symbols he could be a real threat. This is where the trifecta of God, Ghost, and unholy Whip really shine together.
Without further ado, here’s a list I’ve cooked up that’s (mostly) Mono Black:
”Bw Ghost Ride the Whip”
I’ve never been thrilled with the idea of playing Midrange, but this deck totes the tools necessary to pull it off. Against aggressive decks you play the control role, slinging removal spell after removal spell to power out your fatties. With the rotation of cards like Strangeroot Geist and Geralf’s Messenger playing stock removal spells don’t feel so underwhelming. Giving each creature you have Lifelink is enough grief to give any player trying to attack you down to 0 a nightmare. While Nightveil Specter is mostly for the grindier matchups, he is plenty good as a 2/3 flyer for 3 that makes ordinarily problem cards like Chandra’s Phoenix not so bad. Alms Beast was added because I really don’t think Desecration Demon is reliable enough and his main boon was being able to be played in conjunction with Mutilate or Disciple of Bolas. While those tools are not available, a 6/6 for 4 is still a solid deal. Additionally, Alms Beast’s downside is easily forgotten with Erebos’s passive ability.
Against Control, you have a steady stream of efficient threats. Assembling Whip plus Obzedat, Ghost Council is pretty much game over, and cards like Erebos and Underworld Connections help you win the card advantage war. Read the Bones might have a place here, would definitely be willing to try it out. The removal is pretty blank, but plenty of cards come in to demolish hands of those trying to sculpt a plan based on Instants and Sorceries.
I know, I know- you’re probably saying, “Now Jack, while your hair IS excellent you can’t go lauding Mono Black and then build a deck that is two colors you ninny-headed doofus!” This is just an example of one of many decks that can take this direction. Take note of the Manabase. Even with only 5 cards maindeck that use white, the deck damn near requires 7 lands that come into play tapped and 4 that do conditionally. Lands in Standard just aren’t what they used to be. If you want to play multiple colors, you’ve got to pay the price. Most people will need even more lands that come into play tapped. While playing with all the powerful multicolor cards in Ravnica is pretty appealing, playing a turn ahead of your opponent and voiding Burning Earth doesn’t sound so bad either. Maybe sleeving up Swamps isn’t the worst idea after all. Am I saying Mono Black is back? You decide.
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