(Editor’s Note: Nick Eisel is currently suspended from playing in sanctioned tournaments. He has not been compensated for this article. The details of his writing arrangement can be found here.)
Welcome to the world of the Skull. No, not Necropotence – although this is Necro’s domain, I’m referring more to the mana symbol that we all know comes attached to a Swamp.
The last time I can remember Monoblack (or near mono with a splash) being a dominant draft archetype was way back in Urza’s Saga. Sure, in Team Limited (both Team Rochester and Sealed), monoblack (or mono with a splash of red) has always been one of the best archetypes to build regardless of the block you were playing. This is because of the cohesion among the black cards and the ease with which you can find good red cards that fit in your black deck, while still putting the bulk of your red elsewhere. In individual formats, though, the last time I can remember this deck being a top archetype was back in the days of Pestilence, Corrupt, Expunge, and Befoul.
Not to say that the black cards of Onslaught block are even close to as good as that of Urza’s, but that’s simply because Wizards has grown a brain in terms of designing Limited formats since then.
I’m so damned nostalgic, aren’t I? I’m always looking back to the last time something was prominent or the last time a certain deck existed. I dunno if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I feel like a historian when I’m writing; I’m always recounting the past.
Anyway, back to the present. And no, I’m not Scrooge and I will not be visited by three ghosts tonight.
The comparison between Urza’s monoblack draft decks and Onslaught ones is almost laughable, because they both win for completely different reasons. Onslaught draft decks win because of the Zombie tribe synergy, while Urza’s was just a collection of immensely powerful cards that the other colors really couldn’t compete with. You think Sparksmith is broken? Try playing against Pestilence on a regular basis when your opponent’s deck has seventeen swamps to fuel it!
That’s not to say that the Onslaught cards are completely powerless, but they are leagues worse than that of Urza’s. Onslaught Black has a different thing going on for it, though, and that’s tribal effects. Some of the effects you can generate in a monoblack draft deck in the current block are much more brutal than a Pestilence ever was, even if they require multiple cards in unison.
With that said, this deck is my personal favorite in the format (well, second, actually – it’s behind goblins, but that’s a different story). Black is powerful in all three sets, and is widely considered the best color in the format. Some people I have talked to have said it is lucky for me to be able to draft monoblack as much as I do, but I think it’s more a matter of persistence.
Also, as per Teddy Knutson’s last column, I will include the uncommons this time – although in my U/W article, I really felt it was common sense that Improvised Armor is nuts and you take it over everything. Some of the other uncommons deserved mention, though, and here’s what I have to say before I jump into the Black orders.
Essence Fracture never really excited me except way back in triple-Onslaught in U/W or U/G… And even then, it always seemed too clumsy at five mana. As far as Meddle, I don’t know how he can even mention that card, let alone say that it’s playable. It’s a fine trick outta the board if they have a ton of relevant targets for it (namely, only against a B/R deck with tons of targeted removal spells). Meddle is the only huge beef I have, and the rest of it is pretty much on target.
I’d also like to say that I was certainly wrong on the Dragon Scales/Rush of Knowledge order and I don’t know why that happened, but Scales is definitely number one. I still take Rush over Cutthroat, though; I’m a Rush fanatic. I can’t get enough of that card. I stand by my Echo Tracer over Daru Stinger order, but I admit that some of the other card orders may have been fudged a bit as I was tired and merely trying to get the article in on time and didn’t really think about every possible aspect of every pick. I make mistakes, too; I’m only human, and I’m also very willing to admit when I have.
I think that’s all for now, and it’s time to move on to the Black orders.
- Cruel Revival
- Nantuko Husk
- Dirge of Dread
- Festering Goblin
- Severed Legion
- Shepherd of Rot
- Screeching Buzzard
- Wretched Anurid
- Crown of Suspicion
- Haunted Cadaver
- Fallen Cleric
- Anurid Murkdiver
- Aphetto Dredging
- Spined Basher
- Misery Charm
Good Uncommons: Infest, Death Pulse, Smother, Soulless One, Prowling Pangolin, Gluttonous Zombie, Boneknitter, Thrashing Mudspawn, Shade’s Breath, Frightshroud Courier, Cabal Archon, Aphetto Vulture
(In a somewhat reasonable, though not completely thought-out, ranking.)
Good Splash Cards to Watch For
Blue: Ascending Aven, Choking Tethers
Red: Skirk Commando, Shock, Solar Blast, Threaten
Green: Wirewood Savage, Barkhide Mauler, Spitting Gourna
A lot of things have changed since we last looked at Onslaught Black. If you can remember, Ken Krouner and I did a Dilemma article on Severed Legion versus Screeching Buzzard and came to the conclusion that Buzzard was simply better. That is no longer the case, and even Shepherd of Rot has moved up on the list simply because of the power of the Zombie tribe and how quickly he will drain your opponent right out of the game.
One of the bigger changes though is the constant upward motion of Dirge of Dread. No matter how hard I try, the card continues to move up the list, and I find myself even wanting to take it over Husk sometimes even though I’m pretty sure it’s not right. It’s so close, though.
Anyway, the main thing about drafting this deck is having patience. If you get a decent black signal from the guy feeding you, your move is to cut every decent black card you see in Onslaught, even by taking a mediocre black card over a good card of another color most of the time as long as you’re sure you have a good black signal from the guy in front. A good example of this is taking something like a Fallen Cleric over a Snarling Undorak in the middle of the pack when you’ve already assembled a good group of black cards. I’ve done this more than once – and while some may call it moronic, it helps you get the players near you into colors other than Black and let’s you get the good stuff late. It’s a”take your lumps now and reap the rewards later” type of thinking.
Another thing I’d like to mention is that Aphetto Dredging is only this low on the list because of the presence of Reap the Graves and Infernal Caretaker. Both are usually better than Dredging, although sometimes the Dredge will get the nod over Reap if your deck is entirely Zombies or if you have to sideboard out Caretaker in the mirror. Dredging is an absolute bomb to bring in from the board in the mirror, though.
As far as the Uncommons, I didn’t want to rate them in the same list as the commons because they don’t show up nearly as much and I feel you can use your fair judgment when deciding if they are better than one of the commons. As a general rule, anything from Infest to Mudspawn is usually better than anything below Dirge of Dread. Infest is better than Revival, and Revival is better than Death Pulse. You should be able to figure it out for the most part, although there can be some tough picks at times. Remember, though, nothing is definite – so just use your best judgment.
Ideally, you want to be Monoblack, since the mana consistency is incredible and all of the cards interact well together, but sometimes the cards just aren’t there and you’ve gotta splash. No problem! That’s why I’ve included a list of good potential splash cards that you should pick up if the pack contains nothing good in the color of evil. Blue and Red cards are italicized because they make the best splash combinations with Black, which makes sense since they are Black’s allied colors, and Threaten is bolded because it is absolutely obscene with Husk, Carrion Feeder, and the like.
The only cards I didn’t list that have real potential are Mistform Dreamer and Treespring Lorian. For the Dreamer, it is actually a fine splash, but it doesn’t really fit the requirement of a good splash card by having Morph or Cycling so that it’s not dead if you don’t draw it’s corresponding land. It will still make the cut if my splash is more than three cards or so, and it can turn into a Zombie, which is never a bad thing. But it didn’t make the list because a lot of the time I only splash two or three cards, and it’s just not good enough. As far as the Lorian, I really hope you don’t have to splash him, but it’s certainly feasible since he morphs and only costs one colored mana. Most of the time you will have better cards to play over him anyway.
Sparksmith wasn’t mentioned because most of the time you will be hardcore Zombies and the Smith really won’t add anything to your deck. Sometimes you will pick up enough Goblin Turncoats (and other goblins) that it will be worth adding him to your black cards.
As you can see, a lot of the core cards for the deck come from the first pack of the draft, so you should know within the first three picks whether you are going to try to force the deck or not. Forcing Black hard in the first pack can set up a great position to get a lot of the bombs for the archetype that exist in Legions.
- Gempalm Polluter
- Smokespew Invoker
- Embalmed Brawler
- Infernal Caretaker
- Sootfeather Flock
- Goblin Turncoat
- Crypt Sliver
- Vile Deacon
Good Uncommons: Noxious Ghoul, Aphetto Exterminator, Corpse Harvester, Deathmark Prelate, Spectral Sliver, Withered Wretch
Good Splash Cards to Watch For
Blue: Echo Tracer, Mistform Seaswift, Keeneye Aven
Red: Skirk Marauder, Crested Craghorn
Green: Timberwatch Elf, Krosan Vorine
White: Aven Redeemer, Wingbeat Warrior
Dear God, that’s a lot of tribal bombs. Especially in the uncommons, most of the power they create in a Zombie filled deck is unparalleled among the rest of the non-rare cards in the format. I don’t think I need to explain why Noxious Ghoul, Exterminator, Corpse Harvester, and company are the absolute nut additions to any monoblack concoction.
As far as the commons, Skinthinner and Polluter are the only things to get really excited about, though I like Smokepew more than most. As far as Smokepew vs. Brawler, I feel that the added utility of the eight-mana The Abyss is a great thing to have – and although I will always play however many Brawlers I get, I also know that I will get them late and that Smokepew is simply better.
The other debatable order on the list is Sootfeather Flock vs. Goblin Turncoat. Certainly you can pick them the other way if you have one or more Festering Goblins or are just lacking in the two-drop department, as they are both fine (if unspectacular) additions to the deck. Crypt Sliver has been nothing but good to me, and I would pick it higher if I didn’t get it so late to begin with. Combine with Proteus Machines, Spectral Sliver, and possibly even Toxin Sliver for a ridiculous ground force.
Vile Deacon can move up on the list if you are short on four drops or have an unusual amount of Clerics (such as multiple Shepherd of Rot). I could easily see taking him over Flock and Turncoat in these types of situations. Infernal Caretaker is great because it is graveyard recursion that is never dead since it’s a 2/2 body, though obviously you should side it out against any other deck packing swamps.
As far as the splash cards, here we have my personal favorite splash in Echo Tracer. Along with his buddies Seaswift and Keeneye, you can add an impressive low maintenance airforce to your pack of Zombies. Red offers little in the form of Skirk Marauder and sometimes Crested Craghorn, while Green and White Don’t really help matters, though I’ve had multiple decks that splashed for double- or triple-Timberwatch Elf (since Green is really underdrafted on MODO right now, you get them much later than you should).
In Legions, you should be looking to pick up at least one nutty uncommon, as even Deathmark Prelate is ridiculous in a deck full of fodder for it. Gempalm Polluters are also excellent in multiples and you will get them in the middle picks of the draft, later than you should.
- Twisted Abomination
- Zombie Cutthroat
- Lingering Death
- Clutch of Undeath
- Carrion Feeder
- Reap the Graves
- Vengeful Dead
- Dragon Shadow
- Death’s-Head Buzzard
Good Uncommons: Undead Warchief, Putrid Raptor, Bladewing’s Thrall, Chill Haunting, Cabal Interrogator, *Tendrils of Agony, *Unspeakable Symbol
Good Splash Cards to Watch For
Blue: Rush of Knowledge, Shoreline Ranger
Red: Chartooth Cougar
White: Dragon Scales, Aven Liberator, Noble Templar
Black is extremely deep in the last set of packs, with tons of goods to round out your deck. The top four commons have been the topic of debate for some time now, and I think we’re finally close to a definite order. The only debate I really have is Lingering Death vs. Cutthroat – and as long as you have some other removal, I think the Cutthroat is the right call since Lingering Death hurts so much to use sometimes. Twisted Abomination (or A-bomb, as it is known) is just silly. With so many ways to retrieve a Zombie from the yard, this guy is pretty much unstoppable. Carrion Feeder is another card that wasn’t fully appreciated until after a few weeks of drafting with Scourge; I’ve taken Feeder over Clutch more than once when I already had enough late-drops in my deck and felt confident that it was the right pick. More often than not, though, I think Clutch is better as it can serve as a fat pants as well as removal. Put it on a Severed Legion to give your opponent a real headache.
After that, we have the spectacular Reap the Graves, black’s best graveyard recursion in the block. Vengeful Dead is also very annoying to play against when something like a Carrion Feeder is on the board, and multiple Deads in play is usually game over. I’m not a big fan of Death’s-Head Buzzard as it never really does anything, but I’ll still run it from time to time or side it in against someone with a lot of fliers (like a U/W deck).
As far as uncommons, Undead Warchief is the nut high for the deck, along with Putrid Raptor who ends a lot of games on turn 4 with the amount of tempo he gives you.
The two cards with asterisks are cards that you can try when you get some time, as both have specific uses and neither will always make my deck, but you should be aware of the situations in which they are powerful. Symbol is good when you have lots of Screeching Buzzards and Sootfeather Flocks and you can easily put your opponent on a three-turn clock as early as turn 5. Going down to five life is fine in some matchups, and they will have no answer for the 7/7 Buzzard. This is risky, however, and shouldn’t be attempted against Blue or White, or Cruel Revival. Tendrils is good if you have lots of low casting-cost spells that you can stock up in the late game for a six- to eight-point blow that should be the finishing touch on an opponent that has survived your initial assault and is poised to win the game in a couple of turns.
Splash cards in Scourge are very shallow as you can see, with the only notable being my other favorite bomb common to combine with Echo Tracer: Rush of Knowledge. The Rush/Tracer pair is the best possible addition to any black deck in my opinion, as it gives you staying power as well as an all-purpose way to deal with or delay the opponent’s problem creatures. After Rush, all we have is Landcyclers and Dragon Scales. Landcyclers deserve extra mention here because they help to get the mana for your splash color since you only want to be running a few non-Swamp lands as well as providing a large body for the late game.
Wrapping it Up
I’d like to mention at this time that my hopes have come to life, as I have come up with a brand new type of article format. I won’t be able to unveil it until about two articles from now (because of the work it entails), but be assured that it will be as great as I’m making it sound.
Wrapping up Zombies, it is clear that Monoblack decks are here to stay in Onslaught Block Limited. The combination of fast aggressive creatures and large amounts of life drain from Shepherd of Rot, Gempalm Polluter, and Vengeful Dead create a very scary combination to play against. Throw this in with the fact that the Black deck can easily splash most bomb rares (my favorite being Chromeshell Crab or Forgotten Ancient) since it is only one color to begin with and you have one of the top two archetypes in the block to contend with.
Zombies aren’t forgiving towards the unprepared. I can only hope that you’re ready for them.
ThatsGameBoys and Soooooo on MODO