Feature Article – Mono-Black Stax in Elder Dragon Highlander

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Monday, November 23rd – For many folks, EDH is a safe haven from the Spike-filled tournament environment. The world of EDH is run by Timmies and Johnnies. Some people call this place Magical Christmas Land, where any ridiculous five-card combo that takes ten turns and one hundred mana to assemble is viable. I’m thrilled that such a place exists for the people who need that outlet. But I am not one of those people.

Competitive Elder Dragon Highlander…

For many folks, EDH is a safe haven from the Spike-filled tournament environment. The world of EDH is run by Timmies and Johnnies. Some people call this place Magical Christmas Land, where any ridiculous five-card combo that takes ten turns and one hundred mana to assemble is viable. I’m thrilled that such a place exists for the people who need that outlet. But I am not one of those people.

A stack of one hundred cards that happen to contain a handful of cute/powerful thematic interactions just doesn’t do it for me (sorry, Bennie). When I build a deck, I want to end the process with a streamlined force of pure destruction. I love the satisfaction of starting with nothing but an idea, a blank word document, and the Magic Gatherer, then finishing with a 100-card wrecking ball.

EDH was created to be a casual format, and I respect that, but tournaments are becoming more and more popular. Every major tournament advertisement I’ve seen recently has included “$5 EDH for dealer credit” in the public events section. At the kitchen table it may sound like fun to try out Norin the Wary or something silly like that, and at the kitchen table you’d be right, but are you willing to put your money on the line to prove that Norin the Wary can lead an EDH deck to victory in a tournament setting? If you are, you’re a braver (or richer) man than I. Casual EDH is a beautiful thing, but we have to acknowledge the growing popularity of tournament play. I like building decks that can compete at that level.

I am not talking about a Rafiq of the Many or Uril, the Miststalker deck that focuses on dealing 21 general damage for the win ASAP. We’ve all seen those decks, and we’re all very impressed by the pilot’s ability to declare an attack. Yawn. I have an affinity for control decks that win through means other than combat (sorry Sheldon), so that is what I’ll be talking about today.

I like to rate the power of EDH decks on a one to ten scale and judge how appropriate they are for any given environment based on that number. Here’s the scale I use, there is some overlap and it is of course open to different interpretations:

1-4: This is a new player or a new deck still in the larval stage. Basically a punching bag for the battle-tested decks at the table.
5-8: This is where EDH is full of the crazy plays and sick combos but still within the realm of fun. When all the decks at the table are in this power bracket, you’re probably in for a good time regardless of who wins. Decks at the upper end of this spectrum tend to bleed the line a little with the lower end of the tournament decks.
7.5-8.5: These are decks that straddle the line between “tournament caliber but fair” and “completely ruining a casual table.” They can hold their own when there is money on the line, but aren’t so disgusting that your friends refuse to play with you for fun anymore.
8.5-10: These are the Spike decks. The decks that make everyone groan when you sit down at the table with it. If you must build a deck like this, make sure you’re using it in the right place. Just like I wouldn’t play Norin the Wary in a tournament, I won’t play Azami, Lady of Scrolls casually.

I rate the following deck about an eight on the power scale. I’d play it in a tournament, but I don’t feel any guilt when I take it to the casual table. Without further ado, I present Mono Black Stax for EDH:

General: Maga, Traitor to Mortals

1 Graveborn Muse
1 Masticore
1 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
1 Crypt Rats
1 Twisted Abomination
1 Seizan, Perverter of Truth
1 Fleshbag Marauder
1 Kuon, Ogre Ascendant
1 Kagemaro, First to Suffer
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Helldozer
1 Braids, Cabal Minion
1 Cruel Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Beseech the Queen
1 Diabolic Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Insidious Dreams
1 Corrupt
1 Consume Spirit
1 Soul Burn
1 Drain Life
1 Profane Command
1 Bloodchief Ascension
1 Liliana Vess
1 Sorin Markov
1 Leyline of the Void
1 Chains of Mephistopheles
1 Words of Waste
1 The Abyss
1 Call to the Grave
1 No Mercy
1 Mutilate
1 Dregs of Sorrow
1 Smallpox
1 Innocent Blood
1 Barter in Blood
1 Damnation
1 Death Cloud
1 Decree of Pain
1 Overwhelming Forces
1 Tendrils of Corruption
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Scepter of Fugue
1 Nevinyrral’s Disk
1 Oblivion Stone
1 Smokestack
1 Helm of Obedience
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Skull of Ramos
1 Sol Ring
1 Candelabra of Tawnos
1 Gauntlet of Power
1 Extraplanar Lens
1 Mirari
1 Feldon’s Cane
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Greed
1 Sign in Blood
1 Night’s Whisper
1 Syphon Mind
1 Phyrexian Area
1 Promise of Power
1 Deserted Temple
1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
1 Cabal Coffers
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Crypt of Agadeem
1 Leechridden Swamp
1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
1 Lake of the Dead
27 Swamp

The Plan

This deck’s Plan A is to deny everyone their lands, creatures, and cards in hand while building up your own resources to do unfair things while they’re treading water. Personally, I shoot for an endgame plan that culminates in resolving a big Death Cloud that leaves everyone else’s board completely empty. You have sweepers and life gain to get you to that point in the game as well as tutors to set it all up. You’ll want some kind of recurring annoyance as early as possible to buy time; don’t count on your one-shot effects. The Abyss is disgusting on turn 4, not to mention turn 2 off a Sol Ring (that has happened). Flipping Kuon on turn 4 with help from a Fleshbag Marauder is a pretty backbreaking play as well.

There are many ways in this deck to break the parity of Death Cloud. You have a very high concentration of artifacts and enchantments which are unaffected by the Cloud. Crucible of Worlds and Planeswalkers (Sorin more than Liliana) will be your MVP’s; you should be sure to have at least one of those three cards in play before you Cloud (the more the merrier). If things go to plan, you should have a hard time losing from there. And if you have an active Bloodchief Ascension, the Death Cloud will probably end the game literally as well as effectively.

At the multiplayer table, people tend to beat up on the guy who is causing all the problems, which will be you with this deck. It’s not the end of the world if you have burn a tutor for Damnation just to stay alive instead of Death Cloud or Crucible to win the game. There’s a very effective Plan B lurking in the Command Zone. In order to support all your X spells I’ve built in a big mana engine. Gauntlet of Power is nothing to sneeze at; in fact, I’ve found myself frequently using the first tutor I draw each game to find it. You’ll want it early every game, it is that good. Gauntlet with basics doubles your mana, Gauntlet and Candelabra of Tawnos with basics triples your mana, and when Extraplanar Lens, Cabal Coffers, Urborg, and Deserted Temple join the party it’s not unreasonable to Drain/Burn/Consume an opponent for sixty or more. With Maga as your general you never need to worry about having the X spell when you need it, and if someone is causing trouble for you go ahead and throw a fifty-point Maga at their head. Problem solved. Another really cool thing about Maga is that he’s often better off dying and being sent back to the Command Zone than hanging out in play. With The Abyss, Smokestack, Braids, Call to the Grave, Damnation, Innocent Blood, Smallpox, Death Cloud, Barter in Blood, Nevinyrral’s Disk, Fleshbag Marauder, Kuon, and Decree of Pain, you shouldn’t have any problem doming an opponent with Maga every turn. Not too shabby.

For kicks and giggles I’ve also included the Helm of Possession/Leyline of the Void interaction. You shouldn’t really be using your early tutors to assemble this combo. There are much better things to be doing with your resources than going all in on decking everyone, but if you have a window of opportunity and you want someone dead now, or if you’re in a one-on-one match, it’s nice to have the option.

The Bad News Bears

This deck is based almost entirely on lands, artifacts, and enchantments. That is a good place to be in the typical EDH circle, as most decks don’t pack nearly enough non-creature permanent hate to effectively deal with what you’re setting up. Your enchantments in particular will ruin a lot of peoples’ day. But there are a few cards that you should be worried about.

Recurring artifact and enchantment hate is the worst thing you can see in the early game and mass artifact and enchantment removal is devastating in the late game. You don’t care about things like Devout Witness or Harmonic Sliver, those are creatures and creatures are what your deck is made to beat. An early Aura Shards, however, will give you fits. Your only answers to Aura Shards are Nevinyrral’s Disk (good luck untapping with it) and Oblivion Stone with mana up to activate it immediately. Not exactly a plethora of answers at your disposal. Your best plan of action is to hold your most important artifacts and enchantments and try to kill that player or work the political Magic to get him in a war with someone else. The reason Aura Shards isn’t so bad in the late game is that you can just burn out its controller with Maga before he can dismantle your lock. By then you should be in a solid position to pick any given person off in one or two turns.

The late game is where you stop worrying about recurring effects and start worrying about one-shot board sweepers. Fracturing Gust, Akroma’s Vengeance, opposing Disks/Oblivion Stones, and even something as silly as Tranquility can totally reset your development. From there your only ways to get back in it are a big Yawgmoth’s Will or to Feldon’s Cane the lost resources back into your deck then hope you can Wrath and Drain yourself back into contention. That’s why the permanent denial is so essential in the early game; you can’t let them play their answers when they find them. If you have targeted discard online (Liliana, Scepter of Fugue) you’ll want to focus it all on the person most likely to be able to screw you later. Try to throw them off their plan from the start, if they’re busy trying to stay alive they won’t have the window to make your life suck. This is also part of the reason Helm and Leyline are in the deck. If you know a Green/White deck across the table is packing the cards that straight up wreck you, it’s an acceptable strategy to dedicate your resources to Helming them out before they find them.

Cards like Ivory Mask, Imperial Mask, and Privileged Position are worth being aware of, but they are not really a problem. They will protect the controller from being burned out with Maga or a Drain spell, and from being milled out with Helm of Obedience, but it won’t protect them forever. If you can’t win through combat (yes, I flinched when I typed that) you can get the big mana engine going, float a stupid amount of mana, pop a Disk or Oblivion Stone to clear the way, then drop Maga to close it out. So the “Mask” effects are kind of annoying, but can eventually be played around relatively painlessly. Your opponents are welcome to hide behind defensive measures. As long as they aren’t on the offensive trying to disrupt what you’re doing, you don’t care.


I’ve given you the list, told you the game plan, and identified potential problems. How about we see it in action?

I took the deck to the local university and found Kevin with Teysa, Orzhov Scion; Ron with Captain Sisay; and Joe with Maralen of the Mornsong waiting for me.

Ron wins the die roll:

Turn 1
Ron: Tapped Temple Garden
Kevin: Mistveil Plains
Brian (me): Swamp
Joe: Volrath’s Stronghold

Turn 2
Ron: Forest, play Mana Vault
Kevin: Swamp, Sol Ring, Ivory Tower
Brian: Swamp, Night’s Whisper (38)
Joe: Scrying sheets… that’s two consecutive lands that don’t make Black in his Mono-color deck. Strange.

Turn 3
Ron: Taps out for Yavimaya Elder + 2 floating to sacrifice it, searches for and drops Plains
Kevin: Ivory Tower to 42, Mishra’s Factory
Brian: Swamp, Oblivion Stone
Joe: Snow Swamp, scryes with Sheets and misses

Turn 4
Ron: 1 damage from Vault (39), Forest, Faiths Fetters on my Oblivion Stone (43)
Kevin: Ivory Tower to 44, Swamp
Brian: Swamp, Solemn Simulacrum, search for Swamp
Joe: Boseiju, scryes and misses again. He’s starting to get frustrated.

Turn 5
Ron: Untaps Mana Vault, Yavimaya Hollow
Kevin: Ivory Tower to 46, Boseiju for the “Wasteland” on Joe’s
Brian: Swing at Kevin with Simulacrum(44), Urborg, Helldozer. Joe reads Helldozer and gets upset.
Joe: No land, scryes and misses again

Turn 6
Ron: World Queller
Kevin: Ivory Tower to 46, Orzhova, Church of Deals
Brian: Shizo, Helldoze Kevin’s Mishra’s Factory and Ron’s Yavimaya Hollow, attack Ron for 6 with Dozer(37) and Kevin for 2 with Simulacrum (44)
Joe: No land, scryes and misses again, angry remarks are made

Turn 7
Ron: Chooses nothing with Queller, Dimensional Breach, everyone leans in to read what it does
Kevin: Breach Swamp, Kor Haven
Brian: Breach Simulacrum, fetch a Swamp, no land drop
Joe: Breach Sheets, no land drop, more whining

Turn 8
Ron: Breach World Queller, we all realize the soft lock he’s pulled together, I begin to wonder who the Stax deck at the table really is, Plains
Kevin: Breach Sol Ring, no land drop
Brian: Breach Helldozer, swing at Kevin with Simulacrum (42)
Joe: Breach Snow Swamp, no land drop

Turn 9
Ron: Breach Faith’s Fetters onto Helldozer (41), Queller names lands, swings at me with Queller (34)
Kevin: Breach Mistveil Plains, Demonic Tutor, no land drop
Brian: Breach Swamp, Swamp, Feldon’s Cane
Joe: Breach Volrath’s Stronghold, Snow Swamp, scryes and misses

Turn 10
Ron: Queller names lands, Breach Plains
Kevin: Breach Swamp, casts the Mortify he tutored for last turn on Ron’s Queller, there was much rejoicing
Brian: Breach Swamp, Swamp, swing at Ron with Simulacrum (39), Syphon Mind, I draw 3
Joe: No land drop, complains

Turn 11
Ron: Breach Mana Vault, Selesnya Sanctuary bouncing Plains
Kevin: Breach Orzhova, Caves of Koilos, Caves for Auriok Champion (41)
Brian: Breach Swamp, Cabal Coffers, Sol Ring, attack Ron with Simulacrum (37), Bloodchief Ascension, Korlash (Kevin to 42), end of turn Ascension gets a counter
Joe: Thoughtseize (38) targeting Ron and takes Mindslaver, end of turn Ascension gets a counter

Turn 12
Ron: Breach Temple Garden tapped, Plains
Kevin: Breach Ivory Tower, Devout Witness (43)
Brian: Breach Urborg, Dregs of Sorrow targeting Devout Witness, Ron Celestial Purges my Bloodchief Ascension, I swing with Simulacrum and Korlash at Ron, Ron sends Korlash on a Path to Exile and takes the Simulacrum’s beats (35), Braids Cabal Minion
Joe: Sacrifices Volrath’s Stronghold to Braids, no land drop, complains

Turn 13
Ron: Breach Forest, sacrifices a Plains to Braids, taps out for a kicked Mold Shambler to destroy Joe’s only land much to our amusement, Joe declares his hatred for all of us and scoops to go home and study
Kevin: Sacrifices Ivory Tower to Braids, Ivory Tower’s trigger resolves (44), Karmic Guide returning Yosei, the Morning Star (46)
Brian: Breach Swamp, sacrifice the Fettered Helldozer to Braids, Leyline of the Void, Consume Spirit on Yosei for 9 (43)

Turn 14
Ron: Breach Forest, takes 1 from Mana Vault (34), Natures Spiral returning Yavimaya Elder, attacks me with Mold Shambler, I block with Simulacrum and draw a card
Kevin: Sacrifices Karmic Guide to Braids then wisely chooses not to pay the Guide’s echo, attacks me with Auriok Champion (42), Rout
Brian: Breach Swamp, Crypt of Agadeem, I think to myself how bad Crypt is now that I’ve cut most of the creatures out of my deck, I resolve to switch it out for another basic Swamp at the next opportunity

Turn 15
Ron: 1 from Mana Vault (33), Yavimaya Elder
Kevin: Adarkar Valkyrie off Caves(45)
Brian: Breach Shizo, Innocent Blood, Ron begins to search for some basics until I remind him I have a Leyline in play, Ron becomes sad

Turn 16
Ron: 1 from Mana Vault (32), summons his general: Captain Sisay
Kevin: Vesua copying Caves of Koilos, Ajani Goldmane off Caves (44), gains 2 life (46)
Brian: Breach Oblivion Stone

Turn 17
Ron: 1 from Mana Vault (31), tap Sisay for Pendelhaven, Pendelhaven
Kevin: Angel of Despair to nuke my Cabal Coffers, Ajani gains back the two he took from his Caves (46)
Brian: Barter in Blood, Corrupt Kevin’s Ajani (53), sacrifice a Swamp to play Lake of the Dead

Turn 18
Ron: Untaps Mana Vault
Kevin: Order of Whiteclay off Caves (45), Patrician’s Scorn for free, goodbye Leyline, at end of turn I put a fate counter on Sol Ring
Brian: Deserted Temple

Turn 19
Ron: Cycle Rune Of Protection: Green, Multani, Maro Sorcerer
Kevin: Attacks me with Order of Whiteclay (52), activates Order for Devout Witness (43 from Caves), transmutes Dimir House Guard for Ghost Council of Orzhova, at end of turn I put a fate counter on Feldon’s Cane and wonder if I’m the first person who’s ever done that in a game of Magic
Brian: Activate my Oblivion Stone, cast No Mercy

Turn 20
Ron: Plains, Crovax, Ascendant Hero
Kevin: Spawning Pool, Ghost Council (42 from Caves), I realize as I’m typing this that he didn’t drain anyone
Brian: I’m content to hide behind No Mercy at the moment, play nothing, go

Turn 21
Ron: Mobilization
Kevin: Deathbringer Liege, attacks Ron with Ghost Council, Ron Mobilizes a token to chump
Brian: Insidious Dreams discarding a two to search for Phyrexian Area and Gauntlet of Power

Turn 22
Ron: Oversoul of Dusk, Kevin slouches a bit
Kevin: Transmutes Netherborn Phalanx for Skeletal Vampire, plays Puppet Strings and points out to Ron that Oversoul doesn’t have protection from it, Ron slouches
Brian: Phyrexian Area

Turn 23
Ron: Aura Shards, here we go. I suppose it’s time to kill Ron before that Shards gets stupid
Kevin: Plains, Twilight Shepherd, Liege taps Crovax, Skullclamp
Brian: Draw off Arena (51), Gauntlet of Power naming Black, Mutilate, Kevin’s Shepherd persists, Ron pays 2 life to bounce Crovax (29), Maga joins the party and hits Ron for 11 (18)

Turn 24
Ron: Crovax, Aura Shards shatters my Gauntlet
Kevin: Phyrexian Tower, Skeletal Vampire, he starts to reach for Bat tokens but I point out that Crovax likes to eat small nonwhite creatures, Kevin looks longingly at his Skullclamp, then sends his Crovax-pumped Twilight Shepherd at Ron (13)
Brian: Draw from Arena (50), pre-combat Kevin taps Maga with Puppet Strings, Graveborn Muse

Turn 25
Ron: Forest, makes a Mobilization token to destroy No Mercy with Aura Shards, attacks me with Crovax (46)
Kevin: Mikokoro, Center of the Sea, Deathbringer Liege, Ghost Council, Liege triggers to tap and kill my Graveborn Muse, attacks me with Shepherd (40) They seem to have realized I’m the biggest threat, I’d better put something big together quickly
Brian: Draw from Area (39), my draw step offers me a Yawgmoth’s Will: Someone is going down this turn, I activate Shizo to give Maga Fear, attack Ron for the win(?), Ron casts Otherworldly Journey on Maga, we all laugh about how Maga is going to ping someone for one when he comes back. It’s time for some fireworks, I cast the Yawgmoth’s Will:
Cabal Coffers is the first to come back from the graveyard, I use it in conjunction with Deserted Temple to make 23 mana, Mutilate (19 mana), Gauntlet of Power (14 mana), Syphon Mind emptying Kevin’s hand and drawing two (10 mana), Corrupt Ron for exactly lethal (4 mana), Ron Mobilizes in response to Corrupt to destroy my Gauntlet with Aura Shards, in response to that I float 10 mana from my five basic swamps (14 total), Aura Shards’ trigger and Corrupt both resolve, Ron dies, I play Helldozer (8 mana), Simulacrum and fetch a Swamp (4 mana), Night’s Whisper (37 life, 2 mana), Kevin makes a quip about needing to dig for an out with his Mikokoro, so I use my last two mana for Chains of Mephistopheles. Phew, that was fun. End of turn Maga comes back and Kevin takes a damage (40).

Turn 26
Kevin: No hand, draws for the turn, shrugs and drops Minion of Leshrac. Word on the street is that protection from black is good against my deck. He still has manlands he can activate for the Minion to eat, so this is a potentially sick topdeck. Or so it would seem.
Brian: Discard a Swamp for Chains to draw off Arena (36), I attack Kevin with Simulacrum, Helldozer, and my 1/1 Maga, he blocks Dozer with Minion and takes three (37), I use the Coffer/Temple engine to cast Profane Command for 41. That’ll do it.

The Wrap Up:

We see an interesting thing happen in this game. My game plan is totally thrown off by Ron’s World Queller/Dimensional Breach play, but in the end it turned out doing for me what my deck wants to do anyway. At first I was concerned, but my deck is built to function under a slow and steady denial of resources. What does it really matter if it’s my Braids or Ron’s Queller that’s slowing the game down? What a cool game Magic can be.

We also see the audible to the big mana Maga burn plan which ends up going the distance. The final turn shows the raw power of the deck’s mana engine. A Profane Command for X=41 is crazy, especially considering it was generated by just a Coffers, Urborg, and a Deserted Temple without the help of Gauntlet of Power, Candelabra of Tawnos, or Extraplanar Lens.

So that’s my primer for Mono Black EDH Stax, I hope you enjoyed it. I’d put my money where my mouth is and run this list in an EDH tournament tomorrow.

Direct all questions and comments to the forums, I’ll gladly address them all there.

Brian Coval
Bosh N Roll everywhere