Back to the Drawing Board: Reevaluating the Top OBC Decks

Dave gives his tips on the current metagame – including some dead-on advice about what you currently need to play mono-black, including one card you’re just a durned fool if you don’t run it.

Here I sit at the keyboard thinking:”I’m not going to write another article about mono-black and U/G in OBC, am I?” And I also think that I have nothing else on my mind to write about. And that I haven’t written anything in awhile. And, dammit, my readership (all six of them) demands the kind of beat-that-dead-horse-then-beat-it-some-more kind of writing they’ve come to know and expect.

If you ask me, OBC has proven to be, well, rather sad. Usually, the metagame breaks down to rock-paper-scissors. Now it’s just a rock and a pair of scissors: U/G and mono-black. Yes, you could make a point for U/W Bird decks, or G/W madness, or Upheaval-Infestation – but let’s face it, U/G and mono-black comprise over 75% of the decks in most OBC tournaments, so those are what I’ll concentrate on.

Of course, there are so many variations and permutations of U/G running around that it’s hard to pigeonhole. Once you wade through all the different versions, however, it breaks down to two somewhat different archetypes, which shall be categorized for the sake of convenience as U/G Threshold and U/G Madness.

Most U/G decks are running the same core cards: Wild Mongrel, Aquamoeba, Arrogant Wurm, Basking Rootwalla, Roar of the Wurm, Wonder, Aether Burst, and Careful Study. Of the threshold decks, there are two separate variations; one that is the true heir of”Quiet Roar,” adding Catalyst Stones, Quiet Speculation, and Grizzly Fate, and the other that is less dependent upon the Speculation engine and is more creature-heavy with Werebear and Nimble Mongoose. Most Threshold decks run Mental Note in addition to Careful Study, enabling the deck to get to threshold by turn 2 or 3.

The madness-based decks generally don’t care about threshold and eschew accelerators like Werebear and Mental Note in favor of more card drawing and counters.

Quiet Speculation is still found (sometimes) in U/G, but never in the high numbers once thought. Powerful, yes, but this card clearly didn’t earn the banning once predicted

After these core cards, there’s a surprising amount of room for variation. Other cards found in the decks include Acorn Harvest, Breakthrough, Centaur Chieftain, Centaur Garden, Phantom Centaur, Krosan Reclamation, Elephant Guide, Cephalid Looter, Spellbane Centaur, Squirrel’s Nest, Envelop, Hapless Researcher

Criminy, this is turning into a Stephen Jay Gould essay.

Of the two, I consider the madness-based decks to be the (slightly) stronger of the two: It’s apples and oranges. Or peaches and nectarines. Or, in this case, a big stick and a big stick with a nail in it (somewhere, Kang and Kodos are laughing maniacally).

The deck’s been analyzed to death, but I have a few observations:

1) Stupefying Touch is great against mono-black (and not too bad against U/G)

What’s that, you say? A 22/21 Nantuko Shade got you down? That regenerating Laquatus’s Champion knocking on your door? That pro-green 3/3 flyer keeping you from attacking? Then try Stupefying Touch! It slices, it dices… But wait! Now how much would you pay? But wait – there’s more! You draw a card! That’s right, bub… It’s a cantrip? All this for only the low low price of 1U! Order today and we’ll even throw in the Pocket Fisherman for free! Don’t forget that it can also shut down an Aquamoeba or Wild Mongrel as well!

2) Grip of Amnesia doesn’t look that bad right now.

It’s very situational, but this card can be brutally effective against U/G threshold decks. A deck that depends upon threshold and casting the bulk of its kill spells from the graveyard is not going to like a card that empties the graveyard. At the worst, it may just be a cantrip. At best, it’s either a guaranteed counter against threshold-based decks or a complete graveyard killer.

3) Deep Analysis is the best flashback card in the deck.

Yes, you may think that I’ve fallen on my head and done myself serious harm. No, that’s not the case, I’m still quite the nutjob, but the same one before I started writing this. Against monoblack, this is the card I dig for with Quiet Speculation. Monoblack won’t put you on a fast clock, so the three life won’t hurt you. Against the mirror and G/W, the game often devolves into whomever gets Wonder or Glory in the graveyard first, so the card drawing is key. Deep Analysis isn’t that optimal, perhaps, against U/W”Quiet Screech,” but card drawing is never a bad thing.

That’s about it for quasi-original observations regarding this deck.

The core of my latest version of U/G starts with this:

4 Careful Study

4 Aether Burst

4 Circular Logic

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Aquamoeba

4 Roar of the Wurm

4 Basking Rootwalla

3 Arrogant Wurm

3 Wonder

3 Deep Analysis

I went with one less Wonder since I felt four was a little redundant. Right there, we have a solid start – no, not really. Actually, that’s thirty-eight cards. If I’m going with twenty-three lands, then I’m going to have to cut something.

I should warn you, I’m nothing if not (slightly) unconventional. One of my fellow local playtesters,”Mad Max” Zelaya, had a lot of luck with using Cunning Wish tech. Hey, not bad; nothing like being able to Wish for a timely Divert or Envelop. I can take out a few instants in favor of Cunning Wish. That helps to fill the deck out. I also reduce the creature count a scosh so I can add a few Deep Analysis. That, and a lone main deck copy of Upheaval for when the deck needs that reset button.

Ergo, my current U/G build looks like this:

4 Careful Study

3 Aether Burst

3 Circular Logic

3 Cunning Wish

4 Wild Mongrel

3 Aquamoeba

4 Roar of the Wurm

4 Basking Rootwalla

3 Arrogant Wurm

3 Wonder

2 Deep Analysis

1 Upheaval

12 Island

9 Forest

2 Centaur Garden


1 Aether Burst

1 Circular Logic

2 Moment’s Peace

2 Krosan Reclamation

1 Grip of Amnesia

3 Envelop

1 Upheaval

1 Ray of Revelation

1 Quiet Speculation

2 Stupefying Touch

Hard to believe there’s so much room for variation in the deck, considering how narrow it actually is. You could make a case for Phantom Centaur, Ground Seal, Nullmage Advocate, more copies of Wonder or Envelop, or…

I’m starting to give myself a headache now. You can try this configuration or use one of the gajillion floating around the web right now. There really is no”wrong” way, just differences of opinion.

Which leads me into deck number two: Monoblack. I went with this deck at the Portland qualifier and basically got waxed. I made some bad deck choices that ended up coming back to haunt me.

Lessons learned from my experiences with mono-black:

1) You’re a fool if you don’t run Mirari.

I originally thought that the deck didn’t need this card. It has creature kill in spades, plus, with so many high-casting cost spells already in the deck, why run it? For one, it lets you force through a spell, enabling you to get off a key spell, like Mutilate or Chainer’s Edict, even when an opponent has an Envelop or Circular Logic in hand. Secondly, it enables you to parcel out kill more effectively, so you don’t have to waste a card like Mutilate on a single creature. And, thirdly, what’s better than forking a Diabolic Tutor or Skeletal Scrying? Hello, card advantage!

2) You must run at least one Grotesque Hybrid main deck.

There is far, far too much green in the environment not to run one of this card, and I’d probably think of running two. This guy alone scoffs at the dreaded flying Wurms, and he gives you time to stabilize a game until you draw sweepers.

3) Stranglers suck.

Here I was thinking that my Slithering Stalker tech would carry the day. Well, the 1/1 beastie usually ended up being little more than a speed bump, and if my opponent ended up casting Upheaval, then the stranglers ended up being really bad. The Faceless Butchers are worth running acceptable, but the Stalkers are not. I’d rather run Ghastly Demise, which is more permanent (and isn’t a sorcery, either!).

4) Tainted Pact is amazing

You really, really must run four of this card. It let me get away with a low mana base at the last PTQ. My deck may have sucked, but I never got mana screwed.

5) Screams of the Damned tech?

I wonder about this card. The Pestilence-like effect can help you to clear the board of small annoying creatures. I played around with it, and simply found it too expensive to use – not to mention that by the time I could use it, I’d end up killing myself in order to use it. That being said, there still might be a place for it in the sideboard. Maybe.

6) Coffin Purge tech is essential.

You could even make a case for Decompose, but the instant speed and reusability of Coffin Purge makes it a pinpoint weapon in the early game for problematic cards like Wonder, Glory, and Roar of the Wurm.

7) Run Cabal Therapy in the sideboard.

This card is key against U/G as defense against Upheaval and Envelop. Some may prefer Mesmeric Fiend, but that gets in the way of your global removal spells. Try the Therapy.

That being said, this is my current version of mono-black:

22 Swamp

3 Cabal Coffers

4 Nantuko Shade

1 Laquatus’s Champion

2 Grotesque Hybrid

4 Diabolic Tutor

1 Mirari

1 Skeletal Scrying

4 Tainted Pact

4 Innocent Blood

4 Chainer’s Edict

4 Mutilate

2 Mind Sludge

2 Haunting Echoes

2 Coffin Purge


4 Braids, Cabal Minion

4 Ghastly Demise

3 Cabal Therapy

2 Shambling Swarm

1 Guiltfeeder

1 Skeletal Scrying

This pretty much ends my OBC testing. I doubt I’ll be traveling to anymore PTQs in the near future (not with my car making more and more strange and foreign noises – are those crickets?).

But hopefully, my rantings and ravings are halfway useful. I hope.

Dave Meddish

[email protected]