Fifteen Days, Fifteen-Hundred Games: Black is Back

A few months ago, I wrote an article on Mirrodin Standard Suicide Black. Many of you mocked me. Now I’m back to kick your head in with BraidsGroom.

A few months ago, I wrote an article on Mirrodin Standard Suicide Black. Many of you mocked me. Now I’m back to kick your head in. (Assuming, of course, me and my tub-of-lard friends that playtested this thing could actually lift our un-excercised, chunky legs off of the couch.)

For those of you who haven’t noticed, there has been a recent resurgence in the SuiBlack archetype in Standard. In fact, this deck is practically an exclusive creation of the StarCityGames.com forums. Darksteel has provided some very powerful contributions to the deck, namely efficient removal and painfully efficient creatures. And of course, the almighty Skullclamp. For your review, I present the following monstrosity that would make Braids, everybody’s favorite Odyssey block legend, shriek like a sixteen-year old girl getting a date with Justin Timberlake:

BraidsGroom (Suicide Jank for Darksteel Standard), v2.01 by njx

//Creatures: 20

4 Disciple of the Vault

4 Withered Wretch (or, in rare cases, possibly Headhunter – see below)

4 Rotlung Reanimator

4 Emissary of Despair

4 Greater Harvester

//Spells: 16

4 Lightning Greaves

4 Skullclamp

4 Echoing Decay

3 Dark Banishing

1 Death Cloud

//Mana: 24

3 Chrome Mox

2 Unholy Grotto

4 Vault of Whispers

15 Swamp

//Sideboard: 15

4 Infest

4 Persecute

4 Dross Harvester

3 Damping Matrix

It’s tighter than Tim Aten headphones, cooler than Geordie Tait shades, and it’s made my opponents at FNM want to eat Oscar Tan hat.

Then again, everybody wants to eat Oscar Tan silly, fuzzy hat.

The key to this deck is the intense resilience to mass removal and synergy between the various components, as well as strong answers to a broad array of questions. The sideboard may appear a bit unorthodox to many, but there are some very strong reasons behind its construction. Nonetheless, the standard warning applies: the sideboard should always be customized for your local metagame. With that being said, let’s explain the deck with some card analysis and explanations that you obviously expect because otherwise the deck looks like a pile of jank (Suicide Jank, of course).

Greater Harvester is, by far, one of the most ugly SuiBlack creatures to see print in a long time. Remember those turn 4 Wraths that swallow up your creatures? If you conveniently have a Greaves on the table, they will be tapped out when you play Mr. Braids as the follow up. Besides the fact that a 5/6 charging across the table is problematic, on top of that, they have to sacrifice two permanents. After a Wrath, they will most likely have little else on the board other than land, so if they have no enchantments or artifacts, they are going to be set back two turns in mana development. That can be really hard for most White control decks to overcome. Against aggro decks, he’s huge – many goblin decks have a big problem removing him, and when an Infest clears the way, many aggro decks cannot recover in time.

With all of the hype about Ravager Affinity, Emissaries are an obvious inclusion. Even more so, when you pull of a turn 1 Greaves (off of a Mox) and a turn 2 hasted Emissary against Sarnia Affinity, you can safely say that they will be losing large chunks of their life total pretty quickly. While that won’t be a frequent occurrence, it illustrates the frustration that many Affinity players will have against BraidsGroom. A 10/1 flier for three mana is quite a bargain, and these guys will always be strong with all of the Skullclamps running around. I have held off quite a number of huge Broodstars with this measly 2/1 protected by a pair of Speed Boots, just because opponents were afraid of it coming through unblocked.

With the clerics, you have your very own platoon of evil clergy. What could be better than evil clergy officiating at Braid’s wedding? In short, Rotlung Reanimator makes this deck work. Wrath of God loses its potency, and you can use it to negate Greater Harvester’s drawback. With Skullclamp, your clerics leave a trail of 2/2s while drawing cards – an obscene advantage in comparison to other clamped decks, and aggro decks have twice as many blockers to plow through. Of course, this is nothing you don’t already know; but the importance of him in this deck is unparalleled. Any deck running Death Cloud or Greater Harvester should absolutely use Rotlung Reanimator if it is legal in that format.

Disciple of the Vault hurts Affinity, is a one-drop cleric, and can discourage an Akroma’s Vengeance aimed at your Equipment. In fact, many pros had pointed out that Disciple played a very important role at Pro Tour: Kobe, and that it had a huge effect on games. While Block Constructed focuses more around artifacts, the Disciple’s ability should not be overlooked. Sacrificing spare Equipment or Moxen to a BraidsMan also helps you squeeze out some points of damage with the Disciple on the table. Being Clampable is also a good thing. Ravager Affinity especially doesn’t like seeing it across the table.

Some of you familiar with previous builds will see some minor changes, notably the transition of Headhunter to Withered Wretch. The removal of Headhunter, however, was actually a very calculated decision. In a control metagame, Headhunter beats Withered Wretch in the two-mana slot for a couple of reasons: he’s both clampable and offers early discard against control. He also morphs when you actually need a 2/2 or a 3/1 – which you can then pay B to draw two cards at the end of an opponent’s turn, hopefully leaving a replacement 2/2. Against aggro decks, however, the Wretch takes the spot, as his bear status is more relevant to combat and his ‘yard chewing thwarts Bidding decks as well as G/B Oversold Cemetery. Since aggro decks actually have a chance now, I’ve opted for Withered Wretch in the maindeck, but if you expect to see a lot of U/W, Sarnia Affinity, or Rift/Slide, you may want to consider playing Headhunters instead.

Echoing Decay is, in my opinion, one of the best Black removal spells in Standard. It nails Siege-Gang Commander tokens, essentially counters a Decree of Justice, and resets Wirewood Hivemaster. On top of that, it kills most of the aggro creatures running around in the format. Most importantly, it’s an instant, and can be used as a devastating combat trick. You can reduce lifegain on opposing Exalted Angels, trade bears with Myr Enforcers, and otherwise make your opponent leery of playing two of the same creature. It halts lethal Biddings (by hitting all Warchiefs at once) – all for only two mana. It’s honestly quite a bargain.

The singleton Death Cloud is unusual, yet simply put: having a reset button is good in today’s metagame. Combined with Skullclamps and Rotlung Reanimators, you will almost always end up in a more favorable position than your opponent. It is especially useful for when games actually go long. It was originally thought that a fourth Dark Banishing was a better choice, but I have found that the Cloud has let me take games I had no business winning. Nonetheless, this has been a strong point of contention for many – in the opposite direction. Many believe that since Death Cloud is incredibly disruptive and deserves at least three slots in the maindeck. I disagree.

Death Cloud is disruptive, but unlike Greater Harvester, it is much more likely to be symmetrical. It hits your manabase just as aggressively as it does your opponent. The most notable thing about Death Cloud is quite apparent: it is currently the only playable land destruction spell available to mono-Black. The manabase present in BraidsGroom cannot support such a heavy assault from both Greater Harvester (where sacrificing lands is not uncommon) as well as Death Cloud.

In response, proponents of multiple Death Clouds propose that its edict effects are also very beneficial – which is true, except that Barter in Blood is also available, and it is much less disruptive to your aggro-control strategy than Death Cloud. The discard effect and life loss components of Death Cloud are merely bonuses; if you need discard or targeted burn, there are better options. While Death Cloud would be excellent if this deck was more control-ish, simply put, it’s not. There’s nothing wrong with building a deck around Death Cloud, but this deck is not it.

The sideboard presents pretty standard fare when you think about it. Persecute hoses White control; Dross Harvester evades Purge, Astral Slide, and White Weenie; Infest is for opposing aggro decks, and Damping Matrix is for Ravagers and just about anything that needs it. You must, however, sideboard for your metagame. For alternative sideboarding options, there are tons of viable approaches, including: Dark Supplicant/Scion of Darkness, Gempalm Polluter, Cabal Archon, Stabilizer, Pulse of the Dross, Blackmail, Coercion, Underworld Dreams (you would be surprised at how good this can be), Grave Pact, Oversold Cemetery, Bane of the Living, and Sword of Fire and Ice. Visara is even a viable choice, although be sure to side out some Greater Harvesters if you plan to side her in. And believe it or not, there are some who even use the secret Anti-Clamp Technology: Death’s-Head Buzzard. Who would have thought? (Thanks to Hmmmm on the forum boards for that one.) This list is by no means exhaustive; but each of these cards has seen my sideboard at some point during testing.

It’s also interesting to note that Chittering Rats did not make the deck. The reasons are twofold: they are sub-par against many aggro decks that use the Skullclamp engine or have no cards in hand anyway; and Chittering Rats aren’t clerics, which diminishes its synergy.


I want to take a moment to discuss playtesting methodology. Building, designing, and tuning a new deck or deck idea are very challenging and should be a time-consuming process. Netdecking only works because others have done these steps for you, but when you”go rogue” you need to be the one to blaze the path.

I believe in this deck because of the way I test it. First, I find someone who knows how to play the opposing deck. Usually, I find a friend who’s made T8 with it at least once or someone who really knows the deck well. My minimum requirement is that my playtest partner has played at least fifty games with the deck that will be challenging my own. I then play ten games pre-board, with me playing my deck, and then my opponent playing his/her deck. Then we swap decks and play another ten games.

Doing this allows you determine the holes in your build, gives you the opportunity to see other play styles, and learn what mistakes let one steal the game. This also reduces bias in your playtesting results, giving you a much more confident stance on what you have designed. Most importantly, it lets you tune it to near-perfection. Furthermore, it really teaches you a lot about how to play the deck, and what to expect from your opponents. After fifty games pre-board, you have a really distinct advantage when you sideboard because you really know what the weaknesses of both decks are in the match-up. You then proceed with the same methodology post-board, noting what works and what doesn’t.

I want to thank my friends, Radjan Sranawathi, Sheila McDougal, Jim Katz, and Sari Malka Tennenbaum for helping me playtest, and to Matthew Henderson (a.k.a. esternaefil, forum-poster extraordinaire) for verifying these results outside my own playgroup. All of them helped contribute to the deck significantly, and I wanted to publicly thank them, as well as people from the forums for their critique and suggestions. As for my playtest group, we all confess to being Magic junkies that have no life whatsoever, and that we will probably all fail our graduate school classes horribly, grow fat and die, and become Greater Harvesters in our afterlives. (Thankfully, at least I’m specializing in game theory – now only if I was as dedicated to my probability and stats class….)

Tallies are indicated as follows: (Preboard Wins – Games / Postboard Wins – Games = Relative Win %). In truth, many more games have been played than what is represented here, but I felt that keeping the tallies at an even fifty games it makes easier to see the marked percentages; so all of these games have been played for this article. (Although you should note that the percentages here are inaccurate, as you will play two-thirds of your deck postboard.)

One of the most important things to note is that this deck is still relatively rogue, and that much of the anti-BraidsGroom tech hasn’t quite rolled out yet. While some decks, particularly those packing White, will have plenty of hate for you, these decks often have bigger problems against your threats and sideboarding will only marginally help. (Although at my last FNM, JimmyK brought BraidsGroom with Grim Reminders in the board and walloped me in the finals.)

U/W: (42-50 / 38-50 = 80%)

Holy Urzatron: (40-50 / 46-50 = 86%)

In game one, you will demolish them. The real key is attempting to determine what they will side in. Watch out for Purge and Pulse of the Fields (as well as Carry Away in U/W); although the Pulse is less useful when they start sacrificing permanents to a rampant Harvester. Persecute their brains out – if it resolves, the game is over. If they actually get smart, they may side in Sacred Ground. If they don’t, they will probably regret it. Holy Urzatron can’t counter your Persecutes, and Damping Matrix is incredibly strong against them. The deck pretty much falls apart against you – just watch out for Wing Shards.

Sideboarding vs. U/W:

-4 Emissary, -2 Decay, -1 Banishing, -1 Skullclamp;

+4 Dross Harvester, +4 Persecute

Vs. Holy Urzatron:

-8 Equipment, -2 Echoing Decay, -1 Banishing;

+4 Persecute, +4 Dross Harvester, +3 Damping Matrix

Sarnia Affinity: (34-50 / 27-50 = 61%)

Aggro Affinity a.k.a. Ravager Affinity: (22-50 / 34-50 = 56%)

Modular: (31-50 / 37-50 = 68%)

I know I’m lumping a lot of different types of decks together, but it’s hard to differentiate too much or there would be no end in sight. Artifact decks in general have difficulty dealing with your removal, annoying creatures, and maindeck Emissaries. Aggro is harder, but you’ve got enough creature-kill to take them down pretty efficiently and Damping Matrix to wreck them. Sarnia, however, is much more likely to pack Persecute in the sideboard, which can really hurt if you don’t play aggressively. Modular decks aren’t anything special, but Triskelions can destroy you if you don’t make sure to deal with it – although I wouldn’t expect to see it around. Expect them to bring in artifact destruction.

Vs. Against Modular, aggro or aggro-control Affinity:

-4 Skullclamp, -3 Greaves;

+4 Infest, +3 Damping Matrix

Vs. Sarnia:

-4 Echoing Decay;

+4 Persecute [for Blue]

ClampBidding: (23-50 / 30-50 = 53%)

Red Army Death: (17-50 / 25-50 = 42%)

The reason for the sharp difference is because Bidding decks hate Withered Wretch, and Greater Harvester can damage their tenuous manabase. Nonetheless, Goblins are easier to deal with now that Echoing Decay is available. It slows down goblins and prevents turn 3 kills. Greater Harvester is simply too big for them to reliably deal with. Mono-Red, however, is more consistent and much faster – and if they have it, Clickslither can also easily get huge enough to deal with Mr. Braids. Red Army Death also packs more burn, and is probably one of the hardest match-ups overall.

Damping Matrix is strong against both, even though it doesn’t swing the game like it does against Ravager.dec. You must playtest this match-up extensively if you plan on winning against it consistently, but once you do, you should be able to take it in three games.


-4 Skullclamp, -4 Greaves, -1 Death Cloud;

+4 Infest, +3 Damping Matrix, +2 Persecute

If they side in Ensnaring Bridge, you should keep the Death Cloud in the main deck and board in only one Persecute.

Elves: (22-50 / 34-50 = 56%)

Game one is tough. Side out artifacts, because Elves is particularly good at blasting them. Elfclamp decks can be frustrating, but if you focus on winning games two and three, you’ll be okay. Even though they may have Caller of the Claw, Echoing Decay deals with that fairly easily. If they have Spreading Algae, though, you will almost certainly lose. Thankfully, not too many carry that hoser yet. Combo versions that involve Tangleroot and Tendrils of Agony, however, should not present much of a problem.


-8 Equipment;

+4 Persecute, +4 Infest

WW: (23-50 / 27-50 = 50%)

The biggest problem in talking about this matchup is that there are so many different builds of Mono-White Hardware. Some have Leonin Shikari/Greaves for untargetability, others have Skullclamp, others even have elemental Swords – some Fire and Ice, some Light and Shadow. Expect Purge, White Knights, and possibly Worship or even COP: Black – you’re in for a hard ride. One of the most frustrating things to deal with is Glorious Anthem, as it takes their White Knights out of Infest range. Post sideboarding, the way to win is a charging Dross Harvester after playing defense. This is a hard, hard match-up if you don’t practice it, but if you do practice it, you should win. It took me a very long time to get positive results – including a string of almost two hundred straight games against various mono-White hardware decks. I told you: I am the gaming geek mascot.


-4 Emissary, -8 Equipment, -2 Greater Harvester

+4 Dross Harvester, +4 Infest, +4 Persecute, +2 Damping Matrix

Well of Worship: (31-50 / 36-50 = 67%)

Uber-annoying, to say the least. You need to really set up your opponent to be stuck with zero permanents while staring down a hoard of tokens and/or Greater Harvester. That can take quite a while, but I’ve found that if you rush into it too quickly, you’re going to get blasted. They have all the time in the world, and it’s going to come down to board control rather than aggression.

You must take care of Ageless Entity – he gets huge really, really fast; and if they dare to include Loxodon Warhammer, it might as well be Scoopville.

Game two helps a lot, as they can’t counter Persecute, and Unholy Grotto will spare you from getting decked. Just try not to run out of time! Dross Harvesters don’t make the cut against this deck, so you have to meter out your Greaves to make sure you protect your Greater Harvesters from Purge. Try not to play the Harvester if they have 1W open, and watch out for Wing Shards (I’ve seen some decks incorporate those). Most of these decks have few small creatures, so it’s a lot easier to deal with than many other aggro-control matches. If they do have Troll Ascetic, consider siding in some Infests.


-4 Echoing Decay;

+4 Persecute [for White]

With Troll Ascetic, also sideboard:

-4 Emissary;

+4 Infest

Rift/Slide: (19-50 / 27-50 = 46%)

Slide is an absolute pain in game one, as the deck has numerous answers and huge amounts of burn in the form of Lightning Rift. It’s probably the hardest of all of the control decks to beat because it can so easily deal with creatures; and Astral Slide de-equips your clamps. After sideboarding, though, the match-up changes to roughly even, but in your favor. If Rift/Slide does get out of control in the metagame, Stabilizers should make the board somehow. I have found that the following sideboard plan is good for Slide:

-4 Emissary, -1 Banishing, -1 Skullclamp, -2 Decay;

+4 Persecute, +4 Dross Harvester

R/G LD a.k.a. Angry Slug: (22-50 / 24-50 = 46%)

Mono-Red Ponza: (18-50 / 23-50 = 41%)

Ugh. I hate this match-up. Sideboarding doesn’t really help. You can win, particularly because of the high mana count for an aggro deck (twenty-four). This allows you to recover and get through some of your less expensive spells. The same goes for Ponza, but Troll Ascetics are the biggest pain ever™. Ponza is a bit more damaged by Persecute, but getting to four mana can be tough. The challenge of Ponza, though, is really the excessive amount of burn. It’s just too much. The plan is to get aggressive – kill Mana Birds to prevent them from getting a good start on their LD.


-4 Greaves, -3 Greater Harvester, -1 Death Cloud;

+4 Infest, +4 Dross Harvester

Against Ponza, also sideboard:

-3 Banishing

+3 Persecute

G/B Cemetery: (27-50 / 28-50 = 55%)

Aggro Black: (25-50 / 25-50 = 50%)

These match-ups are roughly even, but against Cemetery decks, it leans your way because of Withered Wretch. Damping Matrix out of the board helps shut down Baloth life gain. Grave Pact can be a nightmare if you aren’t prepared: you should practice playing with one on the table in order to learn how to make effective combat decisions. The hard part about opposing Black decks is a taste of your own medicine – Persecute and Echoing Decay, which easily negates the token advantage generated by Rotlung Reanimator.

The true mirror is just too much about who strikes first. I generally choose to overload on creatures as much as possible in the true mirror, as other strategies have generally proven less effective.


Vs. Cemetery:

-8 Equipment;

+4 Infest, +3 Damping Matrix, +1 Dross Harvester

Vs. BraidsGroom, Mad Zombies, Evil Clergy, or other random Black aggro:

-3 Dark Banishing, -4 Greaves, -1 Skullclamp;

+4 Dross Harvester, +4 Persecute

Special Bonus Section: Mulligan Strategy

One of the most common requests I get is to share mulliganning strategies on the deck. The option to mulligan a particular hand is critically reliant on your position as either the beatdown player or the control player. (See”Who’s the Beatdown?” by Mike Flores. If you haven’t read it, Oscar Tan should – and will – spank you.) Against alternative aggro decks, you have to practically play MBC, but when facing alternative control decks, you must be the aggressor. (I’m sure Ted is going to insert some wise-crack here like,”Duh – you’re playing an aggro-control deck.” Of course, if it was Chris Romeo editing this, he’d probably insert some cheesecake for no good reason.) [Alyson Hannigan and those legs are always a good enough reason. – Knut] Honestly, I’ve played so many games with this deck that I generally find that mulligan strategy is largely based on intuition, but because of the high volume of requests I’ve had for it, I have listed several hands for discussion. You’re welcome to disagree with me on the forums, as I said; a lot of it is personal intuition, and sometimes I make the wrong call.

Opening Hand 1:

Disciple, Wretch, Banishing, 2 Grotto, 2 Swamp

I would probably keep this hand against U/W, Affinity, or an LD deck. It’s otherwise unspectacular, but passable.

Opening Hand 2:

Disciple, Greater Harvester, 2 Skullclamp, Banishing, Swamp

Obvious mulligan case. One-land hands should never see the light of day unless it’s an absurdly good double Disciple, Mox, Skullclamp draw. Moxen do not generally count as lands for mulligan purposes – plenty of decks are running Oxidize and/or Detonate.

Opening Hand 3:

3 Swamp, Grotto, 2 Decay, Wretch

This is a decent hand against non-artifact aggro, but send it back against control.

Opening Hand 4:

Disciple, Wretch, 2 Decay, Banishing, Grotto, Swamp

This is also a decent hand against aggro, but mulligan against control.

Opening Hand 5:

Mox, 2 Swamp, Grotto, Wretch, 2 Emissary

Keep this hand! Most decks will scramble. Imprint one of the Emissaries on the Mox.

Opening Hand 6:

Mox, Swamp, Wretch, Emissary, Clamp, Death Cloud, Harvester

This is a tough one. It’s most likely a keeper, but the imprint sequence is complicated. Against Artifact-aggro, Goblins, or Elves I would probably imprint the Death Cloud, because it’s too slow to get much done. Against non-artifact control, I would imprint the Emissary. Against White Weenie, you might need the Death Cloud to get rid of some White Knights. The Harvester should get imprinted, and you can hopefully dig for a new one with the Clamp. In general, two-land hands that have a clamp can actually draw into more land, but if you don’t have a lot of experience playing the deck you might be better off with a mulligan on this one.

Opening Hand 7:

Mox, 2 Swamp, Grotto, 2 Wretch, Banishing, Harvester

A keeper, albeit lacking some drive. In this case, I would probably imprint the Banishing and hope to plop a Harvester early, especially against control. Against aggro, though, it might be wise to imprint the Harvester and hold off forces with Wretches. If one of those two Wretches was a Rotlung Reanimator, then it would be amazing against just about any deck.

And so it goes. I have made T4 three times at FNM, even taking top spot once – and I’m not the only one. While I don’t believe that BraidsGroom is necessarily Tier 1, it might sit at Tier 1.5 – but, in my opinion, it should certainly be a part of people’s playtest gauntlet. It certainly will show up among the Tier 2 decks if it doesn’t quite make the Tier 1/1.5 cut when Regionals rolls around.

The deck has a lot of potential and could be a very strong contender – or it could fall under the radar, and you can catch your opponent off-guard. While the popular decks right now, ClampBidding and Ravager Affinity, both present harder match-ups, practice will allow you to see the natural advantage that BraidsGroom provides: larger, more dangerous creatures; disruption, and solid control elements. Anyhow, I hope you find that BraidsGroom works for you. Don’t be surprised if you see it at Regionals – it has a ton of potential, and gee-willigers it is a load of fun.

Now all I have to do is get rid of that crazed look that Braids, Dementia Master has, and I should be okay. Maybe I’ll even get a date!

-Nathan J