Thanksgiving was last week, and while I imagine lots of you gathered around with friends and family, sharing delicious turkey, potatoes, green beans, and
casseroles, chances are there were also some of you that braved the stores that evening or, perhaps more likely, the following day. Yes, Black
Friday, a day that, much like Tax Day in April, strikes fear into the hearts of those who are forced to deal with unruly or obstinate patrons who have
decided that today, instead of the 364 other perfectly good days of the year, is the only day to exchange money.
It used to be a secret, Black Friday. It was one of those things that folks in the retail trade understood. With nothing standing between an eager buyer
and Christmas time, the first real shopping day of the season has now drawn most every large corporation into a turf war, offering unsustainable deals to
draw throngs of shoppers to their sliding, automatic doors at unearthly morning hours. Do these folks possibly ration their turkey so its slumber-inducing
tryptophan has little impact? There was even a full moon around Thanksgiving this year, giving these lycanthropes a feral glow.
Black Friday, whether it’s named for the darkness and depravity that surrounds these sales or because it spells doom for retail workers’ collective sanity,
puts even the hardiest of bargain hunters in a funk. There’s just something weird about it. Like addled zombies trudging towards the glowing lights of
civilization, waiting to snatch a $49 TV set from an old lady in the checkout line at Target. Black…zombies…is there something here?
From a Magic perspective, black is different; Swamps do better with others of their kind than any other land type. Mountains these days tend to pair with
Forests (or at least Cinder Glade), and Islands and Plains almost always have some backup. Being Mono-Black is enticing for a lot of reasons, not the
least of which is the flavor of it. Black taints every Shard of Alara, Tarkir clan, or Ravnican Guild of which they are a part. There’s something
undeniably black about the selfishness and megalomania of Black Friday, so let’s let ourselves be consumed.
For weeks before the Christmas shopping season started, I’ve been playing a casual black Standard deck on the side. As a conscious decision, I wanted to
keep all other colors out of the deck in any way, so much so that no other type of mana can be produced within the deck. Twenty Swamps, nine spells, and 31
creatures compose this straightforward aggro deck with a fun twist.
This is Mono-Black Aggro at its finest: quick, high-powered, and consistent. Is it flexible? No. Does it have a lot of different angles? Not really. Are
there easy ways to lock it out of the game? You bet, but Mono-Black Aggro isn’t supposed to be any of those things. Using the power of black mana, you
create bloodthirsty warriors from ruthless humans, unspeakable horrors, and the undead. Also, apparently, a four-legged walking ornithopter hangar, but it
looks pretty scary up close. With a total of twelve one-drop creatures, if you include Endless One, this deck had the speed to get ugly and the
inevitability to close a long game. Bloodsoaked Champion is so much fun, and a Mardu Shadowspear makes a great turn 1 cast or a turn 8 dash. Endless One is
almost always a decent draw, too. On two, Silumgar Assassin helps you sneak past the biggest ground blockers your opponent summons, and as a morph, it can
kill something before it gets too dangerous, such as Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Warden of the First Tree, or a Makindi Sliderunner, before you succumb to a
thousand landfall triggers.
Hangarback Walker is without substitute these days, and this deck is no exception. Despoiler of Souls leverages the Mono-Black nature of the deck by always being castable on turn 3. Moreover, the ability to recover it lategame is exciting, as I’m basically in love with any ability that gives
you card and/or battlefield advantage with alternate costs. Grim Haruspex and Liliana, Heretical Healer both keep your team strong by helping you draw
cards and/or gain advantage with every fallen soldier. As a side note, you may cycle either Endless One or Hangarback Walker by casting them for zero, or
if Liliana is in play, that’s a free flip and a 2/2 Zombie. One of my favorite interactions in Standard rises again, buoyed by the redundancy of Endless
Grave Strength is a card I attempted to use in Theros Block in tandem with cards like Strength of the Fallen and Nyx Weaver, but it never felt
good enough. Now with cards like Hangarback Walker running around, cards like Grave Strength take on a whole new life. As you’ll notice, most of these
creatures either do something from the graveyard, or something happens to them upon death. Thus, my graveyard is more of a reservoir than a
resting place. The lack of delve in this deck means I can continually fill it and draw on its power through Grave Strength, and the three-card milling
effect could bury cards like Bloodsoaked Champion or Despoiler of Souls to resurrect later. Following that, Bone Splinters lets you cash in low-value (or
recurring) creatures at a huge discount to kill an opponent’s best creature, no strings attached. Finally, Shadows of the Past is a great finisher if you
can’t get in the red zone, or it’s a great way to filter through your deck through the course of normal gameplay. Although there are 31 creatures, they
were not created equal, and sometimes it’s good to dig for the right one for the job.
In testing, this deck was really fast. It did not have the pressure of decks like R/G Landfall or its cousin Atarka Red, but it did have its
velocity. Pound for pound, the deck was as efficient and as unrelenting as its more popular colleagues, but without the challenging manabases and expensive
Commands. This was aggro as it was meant to be, and it took down nearly every match it started, mostly through brute force of cards like Despoiler of
Souls, early Bloodsoaked Champions, and the surprisingly high-impact Endless One, which filled a hole mono-black aggro really needed to fill. It
out-aggro’ed aggressive strategies and outlasted control strategies bent on getting ahead and casting Dig Through Time to finish the game by grabbing good
spells. Bone Splinters and Grave Strength worked so amazingly well together that I wanted to try that combination elsewhere.
I felt the power of black mana flowing through me, but in an effort to stem the corruption, I decided to enlist another color to try a different angle,
perhaps with some more flexibility and variety. I liked the sacrifice theme, so in an attempt to move that way, I picked green as another color to add.
This three-mana 3/4 (if you count the free token) has seen a lot of play in different kinds of Aristocrat decks, sacrifice-based strategies so named for
the cards Cartel Aristocrat and Falkenrath Aristocrat. However, every Aristocrat I’ve seen has suffered from underpowered creatures and an overreliance on
cards like Zulaport Cutthroat and Nantuko Husk to finish opponents off with sheer life drain. With the winning combination of the Sifter, Bone Splinters,
and Grave Strength, we can rally a deck of green and black creatures with enough synergy to create undefeatable creatures in combat.
Let’s go shopping.
- 4 Bloodsoaked Champion
- 4 Sultai Emissary
- 3 Den Protector
- 1 Liliana, Heretical Healer
- 4 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Smothering Abomination
- 4 Catacomb Sifter
- 4 Blisterpod
This deck keeps the cost low, but it changes some of the key players. The gameplan here is a bit different. Instead of getting sideways as often as
zombie-ly possible, we’re creating slow, but inevitable advantage through creature removal, sacrificing creatures for value, and recovering both spells and
creatures with cards like Den Protector and Macabre Waltz. Our key one-drop, Bloodsoaked Champion, is the same, but Blisterpod is new, thanks to the
addition of Forests. Blisterpod is a great turn 1 play, and it plus a Bone Splinters doesn’t leave you down a card. In fact, it puts a creature in your
graveyard and gives you a way to ramp or cover a missed land drop for a turn. Sultai Emissary, part of the provisionary sideboard for the first deck, has
some cheap, morph-friendly targets this time around, too, especially after sideboard. While Carrier Thrall has seen some experimentation, it’s been found
wanting by most of the folks in my playgroup and the professional community. Thus, the Emissary provides three power nestled into two mana. Again, if it
dies, that’s another creature in the graveyard for Grave Strength, so sacrifice away! Hangarback is here to stay. Catacomb Sifter is so nice with its elder
devoid horror, Smothering Abomination. If you hit land number four, you can cast the Abomination and have a Scion from the Sifter to sacrifice on demand
for a scry and draw trigger. If you miss the land drop, you can lose the Scion, scry, and still cast the Abomination. Den Protector is the real impetus to
adding green to the deck. In the first deck, I always wanted more removal, more spells, but I didn’t want to clog the decklist with copies of cards with
similar effects. Den Protector can recover those critical spells while also being an exciting secondary target for Grave Strength, making it nearly
unblockable with enough +1/+1 counters.
The two spells that wiggled into the deck where Macabre Waltz and Evolutionary Leap. Macabre Waltz, a card I’ve actually been playing since it was printed
nine years ago in Dissension, is a unique variant on the tired Disentomb and Raise Dead sorceries that normally burden Core Sets. Macabre Waltz
gives you two for the price of one, but I’d argue the reason it’s seen no play is that it’s often to slow to matter. Here, between the low cost of the
creatures involved and the ability to draw lots of lands to be able to cast these in the same turn that you Disentomb them, the mix might actually work.
Finally, Evolutionary Leap was a logical step up from Vampiric Rites, a card I’d considered in the first deck and eventually dismissed for an equally
underwhelming Shadows of the Past. Evolutionary Leap is cheaper to activate, so you can do it multiple times, and it draws you the cards you likely want to
draw anyway: creatures. Between those two advantages, this addition was like a zombie vegetarian: a no-brainer.
So let me tell you about the awesomeness that was this deck in testing. Well, to do so would be a lie.
Unlike the first version, this deck lacked teeth. Most of its cards were poorly equipped to deal with the decks I faced, which included a B/W Warrior deck
with Secure the Wastes and Drana, Liberator of Malakir, a four-color Rally the Ancestors deck, and a Temur Dragons deck. It applied a low amount of
pressure, and despite being two colors, the mana was awkward. I’d draw too few, the wrong color, or too many, with little way to profitably fix it in-game.
My Bloodsoaked Champions were less interesting and often served as fodder for Bone Splinters, never to be resurrected. Grave Strength rarely produced more
than a few counters, and resolving and protecting my main win condition, Smothering Abomination, proved untenable. The deck worked insofar as its pieces
moved well together and I drew lots of cards, but I was basically playing that mini-game by myself. In total, I think I got about two games out of the
eleven or so I tested. Bear in mind, the version I’ve posted here was the final version; it just really didn’t test well.
Maybe those sunrise shoppers were right. Succumbing totally to that malevolence inside you does get you that uncomfortably inexpensive TV set.
Trying to be nice and playing with others is not the name of the game. You didn’t come here to make friends. You came here to win. So grab those
Swamps, stick to your guns, and command that blighted horde into battle. Those at-cost smartphones are yours for the taking.
Mono-Black is a tried and true strategy, though its manifestations vary with every set and format. How has being mono-black been a good thing for your
deckbuilding and tournament experience lately, or if you’ve had to splash help, which color has proved to be the best comrade?