Back in Black? – Mono-Black Control for 2007

Is Mono-Black Control a viable idea with the printing of Damnation and Extirpate? One’s initial response would be “well, duh,” but Dave decided to put it to the test, starting with Jeroen Remie’s original decklist and going from there… Did his experiments succeed? Read on to find out!

That doesn’t mean Mono-Black Control is not going to be a viable deck, because it looks like it will be. Extirpate will give it an awesome sideboard tool. If I were to whip up a decklist right now, to start testing with, it would look something like this…

That was just a throwaway line in one of Jeroen Remie columns from last month. An innocuous tidbit of an idea, perhaps, but one that got the two hamsters in the exercise wheel that is my brain turning.

I have very fond memories of laying the smack down with turn 4 hand-emptying Mind Sludges and beating down with 22/21 Nantuko Shades during the last great heyday of Mono-Black Control decks during Odyssey Block. Good times were had by all.

The question before the masses therefore is: is Mono-Black Control a viable idea with the printing of Damnation and Extirpate? One’s initial response would be “well, duh,” but I decided to put it to the test, starting with Jeroen’s original decklist and going from there.

Jeroen’s original idea, which for those of you without Premium access (and if you don’t have it yet, why not?), looked like this:

Upon perusing this list, I had the following observations. First, if you are going to run the Magus of the Coffers / Consume Spirit engine, why not run a full four Magi, and second, I hated the land split between Scrying Sheets and Mouth of Ronom. Why go 2 and 2? I’d rather have a full complement of Sheets main and have the Mouths in the side, which, while sounding extremely filthy, seemed to be a more solid stratagem.

With those observations in mind, I found room for two more Magi in the maindeck and bumped up the Scrying Sheets count to four.

After about 20 games, I’d reached a few important conclusions:

This deck isn’t half bad.

Magus of the Coffers is no Cabal Coffers. Lands have this wonderful ability to go online immediately that creatures don’t have. Plus, the only reason to run the Magus in the deck is to fuel massive Consume Spirits, otherwise, he’s just a Durkwood Boar, and a Durkwood Boar just isn’t that sexy. True, there are instances where he could fuel a massive hand-dumping turn, but those were too few and too far between.

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, however, is all that and the proverbial bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. While Urborg + Magus of the Coffers + Consume Spirit is a great combo, it’s a cumbersome one. Urborg + Tendrils of Corruption, now that is an awesome combo, and being able to turn all your Deserts and Sheets into Swamps is an added bonus for Consume Spirits.

The question is, how many to run? It’s not like Flagstones of Trokair where you want to run three or four, as an Urborg glut is not a fun thing when you want to keep laying lands. As much as I believe two to be the worst number in Magic, it’s the correct number of Urborgs to run in the deck.

Speaking of Tendrils of Corruption, it is too good not to have in the main deck. It’s instant speed, it kills things dead and gains you a good chunk of life, which is very nice when you are playing with Phyrexian Arenas. The more Swamps you have, the better it gets, so it’s (almost) never a bad card.

Cruel Edict is very hit or miss. It’s one of the few turn 2 plays available in the deck, and is guaranteed to at least kill something. In the late game against creature heavy decks, however, it may just soak up an irrelevant Elf.

My idea was to replace it with Phyrexian Ironfoot. The Ironfoot happily trades with Giant Solifuge, definitely puts the brakes on a weenie rush and lives through any burn spell not named Char [or Psionic Blast. Or Demonfire or Blaze or Disintegrate. Or Skred or Tribal Flames. Or Fiery Conclusion or Shivan Meteor. Or Lightning Axe or Conflagrate. Or Hellbent Cackling Flames. Okay, I’ll shut up now. — Craig].

And, since this is a deck making the best use of the Scrying Sheets engine outside of KarstenBot BabyKiller, its snow sub-archetype and “drawback” is not a hindrance but a boon. At least, so went the theory, but practice can be another animal entirely.

Also, outside of KarstenBot, this is the best home for the Scrying Sheets in Standard.

With those ideas in mind, I tweaked the deck as so:

This was better, but still not without its faults. The Ironfoots (Ironfeet?) didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. I seldom beat down with them, mostly they were just passable walls, and in the control / combo matchups, pretty much worthless, having little impact on the game state. A copy or two of Phyrexian Totem would be a better choice here, despite their non-snow nature.

As I evaluated the deck once again, I noticed one thing: Persecute, Damnation, Tendrils of Corruption: that’s a lot of four drops. Almost a glut of four drops. Now, if memory serves me correctly, there was recently another popular deck that had many four drops, and a slow but nigh-uncounterable tutor for them. I speak, of course, of the B/W (and sometimes Green) “Beach House” control deck from PT: Honolulu, which ran Dimir House Guard to tutor for Persecute, Faith’s Fetters, and Wrath of God, among other spells.

Adding Dimir House Guard, I reasoned, would allow me to reduce the number of certain spells while retaining a fair amount of raw power.

This gave me the current “final” version of the deck:

Yes, the Cruel Edicts are back, they’ve proven their worth. Gone are the Consume Spirits, as I tried to reduce their numbers to make them work, but without the Magi to help break them, they just weren’t that great on their own. In their place? Extirpate. Yeah, I know, I’ve dissed Extirpate before, but in this deck, it’s pretty decent. You can rip out counters and burn spells, and since this deck already runs a bajillion creature kill spells and is designed for the long game, I’ve found you can get away with running a card that does not affect the immediate board state. The final throw-in was a singleton Debtors’ Knell, which, while it may not have the best synergy with Extirpate, will win you games on occasion and provides an alternate win condition.

So how does this latest upgrade compare to the field, you ask?

Despite the lack of any “X to the face” spells, Mono Green Aggro is remarkably resilient due to the high number of hasty beaters (twelve or more, depending on the build), and Spectral Force’s downside is anything but when you have an Arena or Skeletal Vampire in play. Mono decks are more vulnerable to Persecute, and MGA is no exception, assuming you can fire it off early. Otherwise, Stupor does the same thing. Damnation is indeed worth a curse word or two in this matchup, since, again, Green doesn’t do that “Demonfire you” thing all that well (Stonewood Invocation, however, does a pretty good impression of it).

Zoo / Boros is a bit trickier, since it has burn to aim at the dome, but haste isn’t an issue outside of Giant Solifuge. It was this matchup that I included the Ironfoots for, and, as mentioned, it turned out they really weren’t necessary. The many one-toughness beaters in the deck become one-shots thanks to Desert, and the double whammy of creature kill and life gain in Tendrils of Corruption borders on crippling. Note that I say borders on, not is; burn-centric decks have overcome lifegain effects for what seems like eons.

With any aggro matchups, it depends on where you sit once you get to turn 5 or 6: if you are already under ten life at this point, buckle up… it’s going to be a bumpy ride, and the Magic 8-Ball does not like your chances. If you are in the healthy double digits with available mana to cast Murray the Flying Skull and / or Tendrils of Corruption, then the matchup tilts in favor of the forces of evil and darkness.

All in all, I would describe these two aggro matchups as Favorable, but not excessively so.

Dralnu du Louvre? It’s a tale of two sideboards. In the first game, MBC has Extirpate overload to kill the Mystical Teachings engine, and Sudden Death kills the entire creature base of Dralnu deader than Lincoln and there’s nary a damn thing they can do about it. Add Mouth of Ronom from the sideboard and you’ve got another great Dralnu / Teferi killing machine. Dralnu, however, doesn’t just roll over and die; Commandeer is an issue with Persecutes and Tendrils, and it can easily overcome any mana advantage you have with storage lands. It’s remarkably resilient, but game 1 is an uphill battle for Dralnu.

After sideboarding, though, Dralnu has the advantage of being able to fire off deadly Persecutes with counters to back it up and plenty of Extirpates of its own. Black doesn’t have counters, unless you want to count Dash Hopes. I certainly don’t.

The first game is definitely tilted in MBC’s favor, but after sideboarding it gets… tedious. As in watching-paint-dry tedious. Hey, it’s control-on-control; non-stop wacky hijinks. MBC brings in the extra Persecutes, Mouths, and Extirpates, and Dralnu generally does the same. Whoever gets the big whammy off first generally carries the day, and with counterspell backup, Dralnu gets the edge post-sideboard. All in all, the matchup is fairly even… and trends towards a lot of 1-1 draws in timed matches, I’d wager.

U/x Tron decks, however, are a different story. I’m aware that there are more Blue Trons that you can shake a stick at, but I tested the one deck I know fairly well, TriscuitTron.

Against TriscuitTron, you’ve got game; they only run two creatures (three if you count Urza’s Factory), and both meet unstoppable demises courtesy of Sudden Death. Extirpate kills any wacky Triskelavus recursion as well. However, if they get the Urzatron / Spell Burst engine going, it’s very hard to punch through, even without Teferi backup, and, sadly, Urza’s Factory has proven to be a tremendous annoyance when it gets active. I’m wondering if I should find room for Ghost Quarter in the sideboard.

U/R Tron goes in the Slightly Favorable category. As for how this deck does against the other older and newer flavors of decks running the Tron – their numbers are legion these days – you’ll just have to find that out for yourselves.

How about Dragonstorm? In the current configuration, and kind of surprisingly to me, MBC is only so-so. Extirpate is a good card against certain matchups, most notably G/B Dredge decks and Dralnu-powered Mystical Teachings. Against these decks, Extirpate can pretty much win you the game — no Firemane Angel or Life from the Loam, no win. Against Dragonstorm, Extirpate can get rid of a key element of the combo — all the D-Storms or Hellkites, or interrupting a chain of Rite of Fires — but there’s enough resiliency in the deck to survive long enough to get an alternate kill with Hunted Dragons, or, in some cases, Demonfire. (Note that with the right cards in hand, you can win even if they get the combo: Tendrils of Corruption with quad Hellkites on the stack to stay in positive numbers, then Damnation to clear the board.)

The best weapon against Dragonstorm in your arsenal, aside from Persecute, is Shadow of Doubt, but that card isn’t as useful as it once was when Sakura Tribe-Elders and Gifts Ungiven were ruling the Standard roost. Realistically, it’s only good against this matchup, so you have to run it.

This might be the spot for Brain Pry out of the sideboard, but I remain unconvinced. I could be wrong, though. It happens.

Some games, discard carries the day and you win despite the combo. Some games plus one, Dragonstorm does what Dragonstorm does — Ignorant Bliss in response to Persecute, go off next turn, good game. This matchup feels kind of even, but tilted toward the Dragonstorm side overall — I’d put it as Slightly Unfavorable, but certainly not Unwinnable.

So there you have it. Mind you, this testing was done against pre-Planar Chaos Standard decks with a few Planar Chaos cards added in. What the post-Planar Chaos metagame is going to look like is still a bit of a mystery, and I’m sure there’s quite a few “new” decks I haven’t yet stumbled across. I have discovered that B/W decks that go the weenie/discard route with Rack backup are virtually unwinnable, but that particular archetype isn’t Tier 1. Yet.

All in all, I like this deck. It’s got game against a lot of the heavy hitters, with only a few truly bad matchups. What it is desperately missing — desperately — is that early disruption against control. Duress, Cabal Therapy, even Addle would be good choices here. What weapons are actually available? Brain Pry? Blackmail? Barf.

You know what would be perfect against this matchup? Headhunter! An early Headhunter would be the bees’ knees against control, as he’d just grind away at my opponent’s hand while I kept the pressure on from other angles. What’s that, you say? Headhunter had been reprinted in Planar Chaos? Huzzah! But, what’s that? It’s Blue? Blue?! Boo-urns, I say, boo-urns!

So much for that Insidious Master Plan.

I can’t shake the feeling that there’s still more work to be done here, and there may yet be one more major tweak to make that I’m just not grasping. Maybe Brain Pry does have a home in the deck. Maybe there’s another good tutor target for Dimir House Guard I’m missing, or maybe I should drop the House Guards entirely. I just can’t quite put my finger on what to do next.

One local player in my neck of the woods (who happens to be the Columbia Valley Regionals champion by dint of managing to run Zoo and avoid Shining Shoal for ten rounds — and good play, too, no denigration here) has been running a variant of this deck pushing the discard element, dropping the Consume Spirits and running The Rack, Funeral Charm, and Ravenous Rats to push opponents below three cards. Janky? Hell yeah, but it’s been dominating local FNMs.

Yes, take what you can from that statement. Local FNMs are not international metagames, but every established archetype started out as something janky at some time or another.

What am I missing here? If you’ve read this far, chime in on the forums, all feedback is welcome and appreciated.

Until next time,