Arcane Teachings – Mono-Black Control in Shadowmoor Standard

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Tuesday, April 15th – With the re-emergence of a certain Black sorcery into the Standard arena, a far few players are hoping that hardy perennial Mono-Black Control will return to the metagame as a timely response to the tribal creature builds that plague Constructed. Today, Tom LaPille talks with Grand Prix: Vancouver Top 4 competitor Zack Hall, and together they flesh out the Mono-Black idea…

Despite having documented my adventures at this season’s PTQs and at Grand Prix: Philadelphia, both of which resulted in separately earned qualifications, I still hadn’t started seriously thinking about Standard with Shadowmoor for Pro Tour: Hollywood until very recently. I hate trying to speculate about formats when there are still more sets to come out, but when I received a friendly reminder e-mail from the DCI that contained Hollywood hotel information at the same time that the Shadowmoor spoilers were starting to fill out, I decided to get to work.

The first thing to do with new cards is to learn them all, so I spent some quality time with the spoiler. The next step was to start bouncing ideas off colleagues. My first victim was fellow ginger Zack Hall, who placed in the top four of Grand Prix: Vancouver this past Extended season. The last PTQ he played in was for the Time Spiral Block Constructed Pro Tour in Yokohama, and he hasn’t had to play in another one since then. Along the way, he has posted money finishes at multiple Pro Tours and Grand Prixes. Zack suggested that I write an article about the process that we used to prototype decks, and this one showed the most promise of any of the ideas with which we started.

Zack: People keep talking to me about building a mono-Black control deck now that Corrupt is back, so let’s work on that.

Tom: Okay, so we have Corrupt and Beseech the Queen as obvious motivational cards.

Zack: Damnation is a given in any Black control deck, and we’ll want at least one Tendrils of Corruption.

Tom: Corrupt is better than Consume Spirit here I assume? We probably want one Consume so we can go nuts in the late game with Beseech, maybe even two.

Zack: That makes sense. A big question is whether we want Bitterblossom. I would guess yes, and it will sometimes act like a Forcefield in the deck.

Tom: Indeed. I’m not concerned about the life loss because we’ll fix that with big black spells.

Zack: Yeah, it’ll be a question of tuning to see how many more kill spells are needed. Nameless Inversion is the go-to answer, but some number of Slaughter Pacts might want to complement them.

Tom: Keep in mind that we have Korlash, Heir to Blackblade!

Zack: Yeah, 4 Korlash is probably a given.

Tom: Let’s talk about mana. We definitely need to mind stone, and we may even want some Coalition Relics if we are really building up infinite mana. Alternatively, we could just play a few Prismatic Lenses on top of the Stones.

Zack: I was about to suggest something like 4 Mind Stone, 2 Coalition Relic.

Tom: Yeah we can’t play too many non-land mana cards. So do we have any awesome ways to draw cards?

Zack: Nope, I don’t think so.

Tom: That is going to be a problem, especially because we can’t play too many non-Swamp lands and so we’ll have to be very careful not to flood.

Zack: Now we start looking at splash colors, but the cost of playing Blue or Red will be that we need to run three or four Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

Tom: I think it needs to be Blue with Tolaria West, sadly. Otherwise we’re not going to be able to get Urborg consistently. Hmm, let’s stop before we do this and turn into a terrible Teachings deck and see if we can stay mono-Black. I’m going to search for “draw cards” in Black. I got Graveborn Muse, Phyrexian Etchings, Colfenor’s Plans, and Hoarder’s Greed. This is nice.

Zack: Dusk Urchins is the closest thing to a draw spell from Shadowmoor.

Tom: Yeah, Dusk Urchin is actually reasonably priced, and the more I think about it the more I think that it might be awesome. Early in the game you get to trade it for anything and draw a card, and against a non-attack deck you’re getting full value. I think we can use that as our card drawing.

Zack: We’ll need 4 Thoughtseize, and probably just one Tendrils to Beseech for.

Tom: We already have four Corrupt, but I guess sometimes we’ll have seven mana and want to gain a lot of life and kill something. Also, we’ll want a Slaughter Pact for Beseech.

Zack: Do you like Ghastlord of Fugue? It’s a Blue-Black 4/4 for HHHHH that is unblockable and Coercions the opponent whenever it hits.

Tom: We can do Oona, Queen of the Fae! I think Oona is far sicker, we’re going to have a lot of mana to spend.

Zack: Yeah, if you untap with Oona you should win. So we’ll play four Korlash and two Oona.

Tom: I actually really like Bitterblossom too, by the way. It just stays around forever and we’re gaining life incidentally so we probably won’t die to it too much.

Zack: That might be too many win conditions.

Tom: Well, we don’t have to be a straight control deck. This is almost just a bunch of crazy Black cards. I think it can work just as that.

Zack: I like drifting toward that because we don’t have the best long game due to the awkward card drawing.

Tom: I wish we had Solemn Simulacrum, or something that accelerated with actual lands so Corrupt could be more effective.

Zack: I don’t think he is replaceable though. We can probably play Desert, but that means we need more Urborgs again and we don’t want to waste a Beseech the Queen on Urborg. Colorless lands also make Beseech itself awkward.

Tom: I haven’t had great experiences with Desert against faeries, to be honest. When I played Desert in Reveillark they just would sit on a Scion of Oona and make me look dumb, or just attack with a team of Bitterblossom tokens.

Zack: Okay, scratch that then. I just assumed it was good, but that makes sense. You had four Thoughtseize, right?

Tom: Yeah. At this point I’d like to note that we are starting to seriously suck against mono-Red.

Zack: Yeah, but what can we do about that?

Tom: Not much in the main. I think we’re close to full. Here’s where we are:

24 Swamp
4 Mind Stone

4 Beseech the Queen
4 Corrupt
4 Damnation
4 Thoughtseize
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Tendrils of Corruption

2 Oona, Queen of the Fae
4 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
4 Dusk Urchin
4 Bitterblossom

Tom: This is what I have, although this is probably not enough lands. Also, our Beseeches really suck. Do you want to just axe that package?

Zack: It can’t get Damnation on turn 3, so yes. I think our deck is too weak versus attack decks though, and we need more cards like Nameless Inversion.

Tom: Yeah, we really have to naturally draw Damnation if we’re being attacked.

Zack: We can take out the one Slaughter Pact and the Tendrils of Corruption, so that’s six slots for us to play with.

Tom: Good stuff. I think we want in the neighborhood of 26 lands so we keep drawing them.

Zack: Are there any spell-lands we can play to keep us from flooding?

Tom: Well, I was thinking we would have something like three Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoths and two Urza’s Factories. It’s too bad the Black nonbasic Swamp from Shadowmoor isn’t spoiled yet, because it could be useful. We’ll keep that in mind as the spoilers finish.

Zack: Is Spawning Pool just too awful?

Tom: I vote yes, although this deck has so many Swamps. It’s a little sad that we have to play all these lands that are not exciting.

Zack: Yeah. Can we do a snow theme with Scrying Sheets and Mouth of Ronom? What about Howltooth Hollow? By the time we cast Corrupt we’ll usually have an Urborg, right?

Tom: We could do snow if we wanted to, but that makes Corrupt a lot worse. We won’t always have an Urborg. Perhaps the “basic lands matter” cards will just eventually be terrible because no one can justify playing enough basics to activate them. I’m beginning to question the worth of using Corrupt to motivate not playing cool lands. The Teachings decks did a better job of using Tendrils along with non-Swamp lands than we can here because they had Tolaria West to search and Careful Consideration to pitch extra ones.

Zack: That’s why I don’t want to have to play 3 Urborgs. Also, I think this entire deck is awful without Corrupt.

Tom: Yeah, that’s the real motivation so I think we have to just play normal Swamps to really maximize Korlash and Corrupt. It sucks that our lands won’t be interesting, but this is the cost we must pay.

Zack: If there won’t be much true control in the format we won’t really miss Scrying Sheets… and besides, I think you’re right about needing Swamps.

Tom: Can we just set up for a really long game with Consume Spirit to help leverage the Swamps? Well, not really long per se, but have the long game plan be just to burn people a lot.

Zack: We can probably supplement the Corrupts with 2 Consumes. Wait, Quicksand is in Tenth Edition? This whole Swamp thing is starting to feel worse and worse.

Tom: Yeah, I know. I don’t think Quicksand is what we would want because we can’t sacrifice our lands, but I dig what you’re saying.

Zack: I know, I’m just using Gatherer to search for lands at the moment and feeling depressed.

Tom: Yeah. What little removal spells do we want to play? Do you actively like Nameless Inversion?

Zack: Yes I do, but we might need to sideboard something like Cruel Edict for Chameleon Colossus.

Tom: I think our removal spell needs to cost two mana and the only other option I can think of is Terror.

Zack: Perhaps it should be Shriekmaw. I forgot about that bad boy earlier.

Tom: I actually like Shriekmaw, I think that fits in with our plan much better and is a sort of makeshift card advantage against attack decks.

Zack: So are we full on slots now?

Tom: We are full. I think we want to cut to only one Consume Spirit, the idea of drawing two of it nauseates me.

Zack: Okay, I think that will be fine. Where are we now?


25 Swamp
4 Mind Stone

4 Corrupt
1 Consume Spirit
4 Damnation
4 Thoughtseize

2 Oona, Queen of the Fae
4 Shriekmaw
4 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
4 Dusk Urchin
4 Bitterblossom

Zack:Let’s talk about the sideboard. I think we need four Extirpates for Reveillark and the possible mirror, and four Dragon’s Claw for Red decks. Extirpate is actually a problem for us too if someone gets our Corrupts, but we can deal with that later.

Tom: Extirpate is a really nice way to get a surprising strategic advantage, so I’m in on that. Claw will go a long way to help against mono-Red, but keep in mind that we need to be able to cut both Bitterblossom and Thoughtseize against them. We should try to play another four cards that work well enough against red so we can make that happen.

Zack: Good idea.

Tom: I’m not sure how effective Cruel Edict is against Colossus. Green decks always seem to bring expendable friends for Gumby, so I don’t think it will connect very often.

Zack: That’s true. Do you think Ironfoot would be better than Dusk Urchins?

Tom: Ironfoot is so good here, but I was hoping for ways to draw cards. What if we just sideboarded Ironfoot when we really needed a creature to put in front of other creatures? I’m not convinced that we have tons of time and mana to untap him.

Zack: What about Razormane Masticore?

Tom: That’s a good sideboard card to be sure. I like it against the Green decks. Let’s finish with 4 Ironfoot and 3 Razormane. We can board the Ironfoots in against Red, so that’ll work just fine.

Zack: Sounds good. This is awkward, someone named AspiringSemiPro just sent me a message over instant messenger and I don’t know who he is.

Tom: That’s a depressing screen name. People should try to align their identities with their desired outcomes and let things work itself out, as opposed to constantly reminding themselves about their lack of having those things.

Zack: You and Rich Hagon and your psychobabble are adorable.

Tom: Heh. On that note, thanks for working with me and have a great night.

Zack: No problem, you too.

Here’s the final list that Zack and I ended at:

25 Swamp
4 Mind Stone

4 Corrupt
1 Consume Spirit
4 Damnation
4 Thoughtseize

2 Oona, Queen of the Fae
4 Shriekmaw
4 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
4 Dusk Urchin

4 Bitterblossom

4 Extirpate
4 Dragon’s Claw
3 Razormane Masticore
4 Phyrexian Ironfoot

This is where we stopped. I’m not sure how great I feel about this deck, but the process of building it showed me how annoying the mana requirements will be for the upcoming format. Corrupt requires that you play almost exclusively Swamps, but cards like Beseech the Queen and Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers have so many hybrid mana symbols in the cost that they come close to disallowing you from playing any colorless nonbasics if you want to play them in time. Even something like Wilt-Leaf Liege, which costs 1HHH, can keep you from playing all the Mutavaults you would have played otherwise. There are some seriously powerful cards that provide plenty of motivation for accepting these requirements, but we are soon going to have some annoying decisions to make when it comes to building mana bases.

I look forward to discovering how well this deck plays, and also to learn more about the new cards in it. Dusk Urchin is very interesting although it does not have an obvious home, and Oona with a lot of mana is a lethal combination. It will also be interesting to see how well Corrupt performs on its second trip through Standard.

Keep an open mind when evaluating new cards and decks. You might be surprised what you’ll find, and if you aren’t willing to seriously entertain all the ideas you have you may ignore the one that actually turns out to be awesome.

Have a great week,

Tom LaPille