Examining Mono-Black Control in Mirrodin Block Constructed

Now that we have acclimated to the cards in Fifth Dawn, is there a new deck here? Besides the obvious Krark-Clan Ironworks decks, of course. What about, say, Mono-Black Control?

I usually don’t try and figure out a block until after the third set is released. Too many times I’ve seen people who know the block inside and out in the first two sets get tunnel vision. They know the format so well, that when the third set is finally released, they try to fit the new cards in with the old format. That simply does not make sense.

When you are adding a whole new set to a format that only had two sets to begin with, you have to expect a whole new format. The Onslaught block had Dragons and Beasts on top of the food chain until Scourge was released, and with it came cards like Wing Shards to counteract those strategies.

Now that we have acclimated to the cards in Fifth Dawn, is there a new deck here? Besides the obvious Krark-Clan Ironworks decks, of course. What about, say, Mono-Black Control?

Several set reviewers have mentioned that a few cards released in Fifth Dawn would work only in a Black control deck. Do we have one to make? Could we find an acceptable MBC build in MD5?

Before we begin, we need to establish some ground rules. Remember that Black is notoriously bad at whacking artifacts. And yes, this is the artifact block. For a Black deck to succeed in MBC, it must be able to handle artifacts. Also, Black creature kill is often oriented away from artifact creatures, as in Terror and Reiver Demon.

Previous builds of MBC featured a Wrath of God-clone in Mutilate, a quick drop that became beefy in Nantuko Shade, and mana acceleration in Cabal Coffers. We have none of those cards available to us now.

What do we have? Let’s take a look.

Mono-Black Control Possibilities:

Barter in Blood

The most likely replacement for Mutilate, Barter in Blood will help us keep creatures down. One major problem is that a Ravager deck with, say, three creature out will likely sacrifice Arcbound creatures and keep pounding away without missing much of a beat.

Blinkmoth Nexus

Many mono-Black builds in the past have utilized the power of the Mishra’s Factory. The Blinkmoth Nexus could play a similar role, especially with a lot of sweeping kill getting played in potential MBC builds.

Bottle Gnomes

For years, Bottle Gnomes have been revered as one of the cards that can help you shut down an aggressive deck. Providing a speed bump early and a life boost later makes the Gnomes a solid card. Are they enough to see play?

Chrome Mox

Mono-Black may need speed to keep up with the joneses. Control decks typically do not want to trade card advantage for quick tempo, but this block may be different. An MBC deck cannot play a Barter until the fourth turn without a Chrome Mox. By then, a Raffinity deck may have three creatures out and have swung for ten damage already. Speeding up the deck a bit would be very helpful. Plus, the Chrome Mox has synergy with Death Cloud.

Consume Spirit

Consume Spirit may end up being the player killer of choice in certain builds of Mono-Black Control. It is arguably the only good life-gaining spell available to Black in the block. With several effects that cause a loss of life, Consume Spirit can feed the hunger.

Culling Scales

Whether in the sideboard or the maindeck, Culling Scales allows a Mono-Black deck to slowly weed out cheap creatures and artifacts. Note that Culling Scales will destroy artifacts and enchantments. Whatever’s cheapest gets the axe. You choose the target, which is nice. Note that Culling Scales does not play nicely with Chrome Mox.

Damping Matrix

Assuming that none of the creatures and artifacts that you play have activated abilities, Damping Matrix could be a subtle but useful sideboard card. Arcbound Ravager no longer sacrifices, Crystal Shard no longer taps, equipment no longer equips, and so forth. This is a very metagame dependant card, and the ultimate decision on whether or not to play it depends on how the metagame shapes.

Darksteel Brute

Although the Brute is a little on the expensive side, it does serve two very important roles. Firstly, it can be the Nether Spirit in your deck by blocking a creature in perpetuity while also becoming a win condition later. It fits nicely with cards like Barter in Blood and Death Cloud.

Death Cloud

I honestly believe that Death Cloud is the X Factor of Mono-Black Control. If you can get a synergetic Death Cloud deck to function, it could really hurt some of the established archetypes. On the other hand, making a deck work well with Death Cloud may require too much effort, and expose you to a quick rush. You’ll rarely want to Death Cloud for one, making Death Cloud cost somewhere between five and six total mana. That’s pretty expensive in Mirrodin Block.

Devour in Shadow

Devour in Shadow is the Fifth Dawn card that makes Mono-Black possible. I hearken it to Wing Shards from OnBC. The ability to off any creature you can target – no regeneration, no immunity to artifact or Black creatures, is simply too much to handle. You may lose a little life, but I suspect that it will be worth every bit

Disciple of the Vault

Although Disciple is not a card that would fit naturally into a Mono-Black Control deck, it may be a useful sideboard card against certain other decks that sacrifice a lot of artifacts (ahem, Raffinity, Ironworks…). Of course, it also may not be worth playing a 1/1 for one in this type of deck, no matter what advantage it yields.

Emissary of Despair

I haven’t heard much about the Emissary, but it looks very tantalizing. A two-power flyer for three that makes an opponent loose one life for every artifact they control when it hits them? That seems like a prime target for a game swinging effect. A three-drop, with flying, that can deal seven or eight damage every turn? Of course, there will be decks where this is merely a Feral Shadow, but its power cannot be denied.

Extraplanar Lens

With this card, you have your new Cabal Coffers. Only it’s more fragile, and it kills a Swamp. This makes pseudo-expensive spells like Consume Spirit and Promise of Power much more palatable. It will make uber-powerful cards like Reiver Demon playable. It also helps post-Death Cloud, although imprinting a swamp right before sacrificing some does not strike me as the safest of plays.

Grid Monitor

Pox decks used to run Steel Golem a long time ago. Now Steel Golem has a much bigger friend for just one more mana. A 4/6 for four can easily block practically every threatening ground creature in the environment and survive. Obviously, the Grid Monitor does not work well with other creatures, he likes to play in the sandbox by himself. He does, however, work with cards like Darksteel Brute, Guardian Idol, Blinkmoth Nexus, and Stalking Stones.

Guardian Idol

Guardian Idol is a two-drop way of speeding up your mana and playing a creature. This works very well with cards like Death Cloud and Barter in Blood. Talismans, however, will provide Black mana for a life and also do not come into play tapped. Is the Black mana necessary, and will you need the artifact to be used immediately? If so, go with the Talismans. If not, go with the Idol.

Icy Manipulator

Icy Manipulators and Black decks go together like Sunshine and Ice Cream. They aren’t exactly made for each other, but they work so well in tandem. However, this may not be the block for Icy Manipulator to wield any power. Sure, you can lock down a creature until a more permanent solution arrives, but is a four-mana artifact worth that?

Isochron Scepter

There are actually several tasty options available to the Scepter. Devour in Shadow, Lose Hope, Terror, and so forth. It’s all mostly creature kill, though. If you think that reusable creature kill will help you out, take a look at the Scepter. Too bad Night’s Whisper is a sorcery and can’t be imprinted here.

Lose Hope

Another metagame dependent removal spell, the Lose Hope obviously shines where there are a lot of X/1’s running around. Although there are some, namely Arcbound Ravager (play this is response to them sacrificing an artifact and they’ll have to sacrifice another in response to keep their Ravager) or Disciple of the Vault. The Scry ability is a nice touch, and pretty useful for a control deck. Because of that ability, Lose Hope may be a better Isochron Scepter target than Devour in Shadow.


Do you like to take turns? Sure, we all do. Do you get bored during your opponent’s turn? Well spice up your lovelife with this impressive toy. A bit on the expensive side, but your partner will love you for it. Probably not for most Mono-Black builds, but it also has a lot of potential coming out of the sideboard.

Night’s Whisper

Is Night’s Whisper playable? You get two cards at sorcery speed. You pay two mana, two life, and a card. Sure, it’s half the cost of Inspiration, but is it playable? Personally, I think so. It also gives you something to play in the early game in order to find just the right card for the situation. Mono-Black has few two drops available to it, making this often a second turn play.

Oblivion Stone

Oblivion Stone is arguably the one card that most likely makes Mono-Black playable, but at the cost of being slow. Take out artifacts, enchantments, whatever. It will keep all of your Blinkmoth Nexi, Darksteel Brutes, and Stalking Stones around, while destroying most everything else that isn’t battered down to a land.

Panoptic Mirror

If Isochron Scepter gets along with a few cards in the deck, Panoptic Mirror is the extroverted uncle that gets along with the entire family. Every card that can be imprinted on a Scepter can be imprinted on a Mirror. Add in Night’s Whisper, Barter in Blood, Promise of Power, and a whole host of other goodies, and you have a powerful artifact. My favorite target is Barter in Blood, which will keep the board cleared for the rest of the game. After the initial pay cost and imprint cost, there is no additional expenditure of mana. Plus, you can choose not to use the imprinted spell, or imprint something else when you are bored with the first. A bit expensive, but very powerful and synergetic.

Promise of Power

Typically, Promise of Power will be an uber-Night’s Whisper. Or a Necro for five, as it were. Sometimes you’ll want the demon instead, but not often. No until you have, say, eight mana to run the entwine cost. This card is especially attractive with an Extraplanar Lens in play. You’ll likely draw a Consume Spirit sooner or later if you are running the Lenses, and the Promise will draw you into it while also playing out a threat. Consider this the Braingeyser or the Stroke of Genius of the deck.

Reiver Demon

Let’s get this out of the way now – Reiver Demon is expensive. He may not kill all of your opponent’s creatures. He’s lousy in the mirror match. With all of that, however, he’s big, he can win games on his own. Do not play without also running mana acceleration in the form of Extraplanar Lenses. I’d also run one, two at the most.

Stalking Stones

A land that can become, not just a creature, but a decently sized creature. Unfortunately, post activation, the Stalking Stones gets in the way of Barter in Blood type effects. However, it can serve to speed up the deck’s kill. I suspect that the deck can only handle either a set of Stones or a set of Nexuseseses. Probably not both with all of the Black mana costs on the various cards.

Steel Wall

The cheapest and best defense around. Fast aggro decks have to deal with a wall or try to swing around it. Either way should give you a chance to set up defenses. This is not a good card in the late game. This may end up being more of a sideboard card.

Talisman of Dominance/Talisman of Indulgence

Another idea for the two-drop spot is to run Talismans that tap for Black. You have access to Black mana if you need it, plus you have a way to speed up important spells, like Barter in Blood. Is it better than Guardian Idol?


The cheap standard is pretty crappy against many of the creature in the block. Staring down a Myr Enforcer and two Frogmites will not make this a good card. It can take out the occasional Broodstar, if they are even played anymore. Maybe an Atog will die. Terror is, at best, a sideboard card against those decks that choose to go elsewhere for their creatures.

Wrench Mind

Decks like this have often played discard. In addition, MBC is missing a lot of two drops, unless you play something like a Talisman or a Guardian Idol. However, the Wrench Mind can be deflected by discarding a single card, which neuters the power of the card. Playing it is a gamble.

Obviously these are not the only cards that might be played in a viable Mono-Black deck. Maybe you want to fit in a copy or two of Tower of Murmurs along with your Extraplanar Lenses and such. If it works, then great.

Let’s take a look at a couple of builds real quick:


4 Devour in Shadow

4 Barter in Blood

4 Night’s Whisper

4 Grid Monitor

4 Consume Spirit

2 Promise of Power

4 Extraplanar Lens

4 Oblivion Stone

4 Culling Scales

2 Death Cloud

20 Swamps

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

This deck operates with Death Cloud, accelerates mana through Extraplanar Lens, and tries to win through a Grid Monitor, a Demon Token, a Blinkmoth Nexus, or a big Consume Spirit. It has the suite of good removal (Oblivion Stone, Barter in Blood, and Devour in Shadow). This deck backs that up with Culling Scales and the powerful Death Cloud. This deck is pretty straightforward – kill stuff, draw cards, kill more stuff, set up, win. In this deck, the Oblivion Stone is the backbone, and probably the most important card in gaining control. Once you have control, you’ll likely have a Grid Monitor, Demon token, or Culling Scales in play, and will thus want to hold back O. Stones.

Quick MBC

4 Chrome Mox

4 Guardian Idol

4 Barter in Blood

4 Devour in Shadow

4 Oblivion Stone

2 Grid Monitor

2 Bottle Gnomes

4 Night’s Whisper

4 Emissary of Despair

4 Lose Hope

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

20 Swamp

This deck tries to be a little faster. There are eight ways in the deck to speed up a Barter in Blood to the third turn – that’s pretty good odds. Here, you are using the Oblivion Stone as an emergency backup, instead of the primary Wrath effect. Also, instead of using Grid Monitors as defense, in the first deck, here they serve mop-up duty. Since there are only two, and we also run Emissaries, make sure that they do not get played too early unless necessary. The Emissary is usually best against the best decks in the format, side him out against artifact-light decks. (In case you were wondering.) You have Lose Hope for the small stuff. And you have a pair of defensive creatures in Bottle Gnomes.

These are just raw decks that are designed to provoke thought. Mono-Black Control has a variety of options for you to consider. Good luck with your builds!

Until Later,

Abe Sargent