Fixing Black Market: MBC At The Tail End Of Standard

If you’re looking for a change of pace at SCG Standard Open: Portland or SCG Classic Series: Birmingham, then check out the Mono-Black Control deck with Trading Post that Adrian has been working on lately.

One of the things that happened a lot recently in Standard was the attempt to make something happen with the card Trading Post. And for good reason. The big deal people make about Trading Post is completely reasonable because the card does a lot of really impressive things. It isn’t just that it is, as boardgamers have been joking, “The Settlers of Catan” card for Magic: The Gathering, it’s that the abilities on the card really do have a significant impact on the game.

Last year, Mike Flores ended up with a lot of people making fun of him for using Druidic Satchel so often. This was an unfortunate bit of mockery, I felt, because the card was really particularly good. But a part of that mockery came from, perhaps, the sheer overwhelming desire of Flores to put it in so many decks and in such large numbers.

Vindicating to Flores, though, was the success that many people had with the card. At one of the first SCG Standard Opens, a U/R Phoenix deck took it down with Satchel, shockingly in an aggressive deck. Later, Reid Duke won a MOCS with U/B Control featuring Satchel. Andrew Cuneo’s U/W Control list initially ran the Satchel, took it out for a while, and put it back in. My own UW Control list cut Satchel briefly, and I, like Andrew, ended up putting it back in as well. In my case, the big reason I brought Satchel back into the deck was that in the late-late game, I found myself flooding out on occasion; this was something that basically never happened with Satchel, so including a singleton Satchel brought huge returns to the deck that I hadn’t been aware were there until I took it out.

People sometimes get associated with cards. In some ways, Flores will always be associated with Satchel, perhaps because he loved it “too much.” Chapin, not so long ago, had an association and a semi-love affair with Olivia Voldaren. These days, the love affair getting the most headlines is Brad Nelson and Trading Post. If you’ve been reading his articles or watching his videos, you’ve seen it: the four copies of Trading Post. The smile on his face. That look of love.

It’s almost a shame that this is Labor Day weekend as I write this (in the USA) instead of Valentine’s, because there really is a sheen of love that shines off of Brad when it comes to Trading Post.

Now, some people take this love as an opportunity to discount the value of a card. “Oh,” they say, “that card is fine, I guess, but he only likes it so much because he is in love with the card and wants to marry it and have a million babies with it.”

But the thing is, the card, on its own is still a good one. The problem is that it isn’t so good that it deserves to be built around in the dedicated way that we’re seeing it built around in most of the decks that are running it right now.

What kind of card is the kind of card that deserves to be built around? Oath of Druids. Yawgmoth’s Will. Wildfire. Birthing Pod. Primeval Titan. Whether they are good or bad, these are cards that decks get built around.

People are trying to build their Trading Post decks like Trading Post is one of these cards. I’m sorry to say to Brad and everyone else that it really isn’t.

What is Trading Post, then, if it isn’t the linchpin of a deck?

What it really is is Druidic Satchel. What it really is is Knight of the Reliquary. What it really is is even Jayemdae Tome.

What does this mean? It means that it is a powerful card that we can use to potentially overpower someone, but more often than not what we do with it is to grind them out. The cards I listed before these grindy cards are more often cards that not only can be the centerpiece of a deck, the thing that a deck simply does and the thing that makes a deck push things completely over the top, but are also usually game ending.

Trading Post is not one of these, and yet people keep hoping that it is.

Abandoning the Black Market

When I first started working on Mono-Black Control, it was a long while ago. Pristine Talisman had just been printed, and I was sitting across the table from Patrick Chapin grinding away with control deck after control deck. One of them was a Mono-Black Control deck, and I was struck by the incredible power of MBC. In the end, it wasn’t quite as good as many of the other decks we ended up working on for that moment in the game, and the control players in our group drifted towards Cuneo and my version of U/W Control for that Worlds.

The thing that really struck me, though, was the sheer power of Pristine Talisman in general.

In the MBC deck, there was another element that was shockingly good: Pristine Talisman as a lead in to Batterskull. Batterskull was already completely awesome of course. People weren’t really aware, though, of just how fabulous Pristine Talisman was! Pristine Talisman oftentimes basically felt as though it was some kind of awesome pre-removal.

This might sound like exaggeration, but it really ends up bearing out if you’re a deck using mass removal. You put out a Talisman, and it practically negates a creature right away or nearly does so. But then, after the act of removing it, very quickly it can completely undo the work of a creature that has already done some damage to you, and if the game continues to progress, then you end up actually negating the work of more creatures.

When you combine this with other kinds of life gain, it even feels more compounded. Batterskull in black control (or red control, for that matter) fits particularly well for this. With solid targeted removal and fair mass removal, the recouping of life points ends up being much more important than it is for various white-based control, usually because the removal package can’t be counted on quite as much.

When you start including so much potential life gain, one of the awesome things that ends up happening is that you end up finding out that even the powerful late game strategies of opponents can be responded to over a period of time. You aren’t necessarily dead when a Sun Titan finds a few Images and you are going to be taking eighteen-ish damage a turn; this is still a game that you might be able to take down! (Though, maybe not, too.)

Fitting into this another potential life gain card in the form of Trading Post just compounds the real threat that these decks represent for someone struggling to make a kill happen. Of course, Trading Post really has a quasi-casting cost of five, since you need to activate it at least once to get something out of it.

At the point where you start realizing, “Gee, Trading Post costs five and I’m already committed to Batterskull,” there comes epiphany: maybe I shouldn’t be running four of this card.

This is the big thing I see in the Black Market decks: they don’t realize that they are making a support card the centerpiece of their deck. Recently, Kibler, when talking about Trading Post, made some comments about building a deck with the card where he pooh-poohed a card like Sphere of the Suns in favor of the Wellspring package (Mycosynth and Ichor) because they were ultimately more powerful.

Here is the problem: in trying to make Trading Post the centerpiece, too much weight is being rested on a card that isn’t really capable of supporting the entire deck. A quick check of Trading Post decks as the centerpiece shows that at SCG Standard Opens, a black deck with four Trading Posts hasn’t moneyed. If we go to three, we get this from not so long ago at an SCG Standard Open that I commentated at:

The deck was shockingly quickly dispatched by G/W Aggro, a matchup that Matt Pitzer assumed was going to be a cakewalk. It wasn’t. He received a very quick 2-0 defeat, basically taken out before he could mount a sufficient defense.

So, if Trading Post isn’t the center, what is it?

The Post as Support

In experimenting with MBC over the last months, one of the people I looked to for guidance was Shaheen Soorani, one of my favorite deckbuilders over the last many years.

Take a look at his Standard deck from the last SCG Invitational in Indianapolis:

What does this three-color deck have to teach a mono-colored control deck, particularly a black one? Hell, there are practically no cards in the deck that are even usable by an MBC deck.

One of the big things that I saw in it was a shift away from Mana Leak in a controlling deck. Despise, instead, was what he shifted to.

As I was trying out MBC, this was something I kept coming back to. Despise. It was a card that I had initially disliked, but it was in a different moment in the game. One thing to always remember about Magic, though, is that the one constant is that as much as things stay the same, they also change.

Despise had become a card that was incredibly useful in the meta that was dominated by creatures, and one in which a control deck might not be actually very interested in countering cards. A part of the problem wasn’t just Cavern of Souls; it was the sheer speed of the faster decks.

Take the aggressive draws that a Delver deck is capable of. Even without Cavern of Souls (which, sometimes even they run), a controlling deck can just crumble under the weight of a Delver-fueled aggressive draw simply because there isn’t enough time to get things going, and when you do make the decisive move to end the game, they can simply have a timely Mana Leak or, after board, other harsher answers.

Despise is cheap enough to get into the action early and can even blunt this opening from Delver, as well as other decks. It’s a good thought experiment, looking at Delver as the limiting factor of a game: if they have one timely counter, what then?

This is one of the reasons that relying on Trading Post as the mainstay of a deck can be a trap. You can be doing all of these awesome things, but you might get struck down by a single answer. While you’re slowly building up advantage, your life total starts ticking down, and then wham! The one answer you had prepared gets wiped out by a Leak.

Returning to a talk I had with Shaheen, I asked him about Despises and mixing targeted removal and board sweepers. He wondered what I was working on, and I mentioned I’d been working on MBC. He, quite correctly, noted that one of the problems that MBC had was that it didn’t have a way to really grind out the late game. This is the value that you can get out of Trading Post: you get to that late game and then you start pressing into the opponent with advantages upon advantages until they just fall over.

If you’re looking for this to be a late game plan you can rely on, how many should you be running?


At least, that’s my answer, for now.

From there, other things started falling into line.

Once I knew that that was the case, I ended up dropping in one of the most awesome cards for the deck that I’d seen countless other people discount: Sphere of the Suns.

Why is Sphere of the Suns so good? The big reason is that you really do need to be able to accelerate into something potent sooner than you might otherwise be doing in a normal world. When it comes do doing things quickly, it’s powerful and all, but the cost of the Sphere of the Suns is a real one: the Sphere wears out. One awesome thing, though, about Trading Post is that it doesn’t care. Got a worn out Sphere? Turn it into a card!

The rest of the deck kind of just fell into place after that. I added one little flourish which probably doesn’t belong, but it sure is fun. Here is the deck now, after a ton of testing over the last few months:

Fair warning: I hate my sideboard.

I’ve been working on the main a lot, and I’m pretty happy with it for the most part, at least for the Magic Online metagame. Yes, I’m having a lot of fun with Mirrorworks and I sideboard it out more than any other card (a fair indication that it shouldn’t be in the maindeck), but I basically really like the deck a lot.

The sideboard, on the other hand, I feel like I’m struggling with when it comes to answering the meta at large. I know I can just totally devastate certain opponents, but the more that I work to do that, the less I can target towards other decks. Most importantly, though, it seems clear to me that I have a collection of cards in my sideboard rather than new decks that I’m shifting into for different matchups. Between the 75 cards of my main and board, I just end up feeling like I have 68 cards for some matchups and then I need to take cards out that lead me to question why I have my main and board built like they are… Still working on that.

Here are some of the common question marks:

Victim of Night

Victim is a card I’m running right now because I haven’t been seeing much in the way of Zombies and I have been seeing a ton of both Delver and Infect decks. As a result, I wanted a card that I could count on to fight against those two Magic Online behemoths. If you feel like you’re fighting something different, feel free to change these around.

Phyrexian Metamorph

Wow, I can’t say enough good things about this card. The thing about the current Standard is that there are a ton of awesome creatures, and sometimes the best thing that you can do is just copy one of them. When it comes to Delver, you need to be able to kill Geist of Saint Traft, so Metamorph is just a great way to do it. Against Infect, blocking an infect creature with your own is usually a permanent way to take care of business. Against things that go big, you can keep up. After I moved to four, one Island found its way in the deck to help make Solemn all the more effective in helping out late-game Metamorphs; I highly recommend just leaving it at that number.

Liliana of the Dark Realms

I was trying the other Lili, but in the end, I ended up shifting over to Liliana of the Dark Realms because the constant drumbeat of card advantage was exactly what the deck wanted—kind of in line with what Shaheen was mentioning as a problem for the deck. If you don’t like it very much, feel free to replace it, but I’ve been quite happy with it.

Karn Liberated

When you go to the top end of the curve, right now, I feel like there is nothing that really matches up to Karn (though I may need to reconsider this now that we have Nicol Bolas). Just running one main means that you aren’t likely to get overwhelmed by the top end of your curve, and in the games where it drops, it can just take things over all by itself. The second in the board is exactly for those long grinds where this is a part of the fight. I’ve had a third in the board several times, and if there was enough time left in this meta, I probably would again, but things are going to rotate before that happens.


This is just for fun, really. But man, when you get a Mirrorworks into play, copy it (twice) with Metamorph, and then just explode with your artifacts, it is totally insane.


I’m really enjoying playing this deck right now. I’m also getting a small little profit with it playing it online, which is always a positive feeling. That being said, I am happier with Infect right now, at least in terms of performance. If you’re trying to totally Spike it up, you are probably better off looking elsewhere, at least for now.

That being said, the deck is a hell of a lot of fun, and it is good, even if it is less good than other competitive decks I like right now. To me, the big thing I’ve learned in my quest to work on MBC is that it really isn’t a Trading Post deck. Rather it is a deck that plays Trading Post. Making this distinction is important.

With so little time left in the format (though at least there is a little more on Magic Online), this could be a fun change of pace for you if you’re looking for something a little different. I know that I’ve always been one to experiment. This is partly because it is in my nature, but it is also partly because I’m always looking for something interesting to do with the game. In my own history with the game, I’ve definitely felt like I’ve built more than a few game changers that have influenced the course of Magic for a long time. You don’t end up doing that, though, if you aren’t willing to skin your knees now and again with a deck that might just fall down when the going gets rough.

I took this last weekend off from Magic, just enjoying a nice weekend at home with friends. The StarCityGames.com Open Series was only a little ways away up in Minneapolis and I’m sad that I wasn’t able to see all of my friends up there, but it was nice to take the little break. You can expect that I’ll be heading to events in the greater Midwest and beyond very soon.

Heck, I seem to have lined up a probable San Jose team even.

Until next week!

Adrian Sullivan

On Tuesday day, I’ll have another Trading Post deck up at my Facebook page!

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