Innovations – Mono-Black Rogues in Standard and Block

Read Patrick Chapin every Monday... at StarCityGames.com!
Morningtide is finally here (functionally), so it’s time to break out the hot new Constructed tech! Today’s Innovations does just that: Patrick Chapin brings us a Mono-Black Standard Rogue deck that has great game against the format’s front-runners. And, as it’s mainly comprised of Lorwyn Block goodies, it can port over into Block Constructed too!

I was originally going to write an article about a Standard deck I put together this week, but, moments before sitting down to type, it occurred to me that my deck was but a couple of cards away from being a Lorwyn Block Constructed deck.

I don’t know that much about this particular format, though I hear U/B Mannequin splash Oblivion Ring and Nath of the Gilt Leaf is where it is at in straight Lorwyn. That said, I have to think that when a small expansion allows for the creation of a powerful new archetype in Standard, using almost only Block cards, it has to be a worthwhile strategy to explore for Block Constructed. This is similar to Madness, Goblins, Slide, and Affinity.

Like Madness, Goblins, Slide, and Affinity, the key to Mono-Black Rogues is the abuse of a narrow linear, in this case the Prowl mechanic. In my opinion, the best way to view the Rogue deck is like a sort of Madness deck. You have the ability to get undercosted cards like Earwig Squad and Noggin Whack, as long as you keep Prowling your opponent. Therefore, we want to take advantage of Prowl Enablers, such as Nightshade Stinger and Prickly Boggart. They are our Aquamoebas, if you will.

Let’s start with my Standard version.

Mono-Black Rogues in Standard

4 Nightshade Stinger
4 Prickly Boggart
4 Oona’s Blackguard
4 Oona’s Prowler
3 Bitterblossom
4 Bad Moon
4 Earwig Squad
4 Marsh Flitter
2 Shriekmaw
4 Noggin Whack
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Pendelhaven
4 Mutavault
16 Snow-Covered Swamp

3 Nameless Inversion
4 Deathmark
4 Thoughtseize
2 Pithing Needle
1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Pendelhaven

I know that I use a lot fewer Prowl cards than others, but I actually think we are able to get more value out of our Rogues through the Blackguard and Bad Moon than any of the other Prowl cards.

I originally built this deck with Blue, but the more I played with it, the more I cut Blue cards until I was left with just Looter Il-Kor and Psionic Blast (yes, I even wanted to cut Latchkey Faiere.) Finally, Phil Cape suggested Bad Moon, and I realized the way to make it work was to cut the Blue. The mana was pretty easy, but there are so many good rogue cards that there is just no need to stretch things. Plus, with Bad Moon, we now have a bonafide reason to stay Mono-Black.

Let’s start with the Nightshade Stinger and Prickly Boggart. They are fairly unimpressive men in their own right. However, they are one-mana evasion creatures that allow you to play the entire game with Prowl active. As such, they sort of serve as mana elves, allowing you to save much when playing your Prowl cards. In addition, they are pretty unblockable, and when combined with Oona’s Blackguard or Bad Moon they can serve fine beats.

The Blackguard is your Lord of Atlantis, but he is even better than that in several ways. First of all, the discard ability makes him the most threatening creature in your deck. If an opponent doesn’t have an answer to him, you can just tear apart your opponent’s hand, ensuring that they can’t develop any sort of a late game. If you Noggin Whack them on top of this guy, it can be backbreaking. It shouldn’t be overlooked, but the Blackguard will cause awkward blocks, as opponents may be inclined to chump with Llanowar Elves or Birds of Paradise, rather than discard additional cards. Aside from the discard ability, there is still the matter of the +1/+1 counters. Combine this with Marsh Flitter or Bitter Blossom for best results. Finally, Oona’s Blackguard flies, giving you yet another Prowl enabler.

Oona’s Prowler is no surprise, serving as a very efficient beater than also enables Prowl. I am still very undecided about this slot. It is the Prowler that bumped out the Frogtosser in my Standard list. I was running the Frogtosser, with reasonable results, but Phil tells me I need to be packing the Prowler, and the Frogtosser has definitely been the weak link. Besides, I have always been a fan of Oona’s Prowler so why would I not run it when I am supposed to be Prowling? It should also be noted that Stinkdrinker Bandit should be considered here too.

Bitterblossom is sort of a Kjeldoran Outpost, if that makes sense. It is rather slow, but it can provide some much needed card advantage (or virtual card advantage). In addition, it helps ensure that you always have a creature to Prowl with. It is extraordinarily powerful when combined with Blackguard or Bad Moon, but even when it is serving as a makeshift Forcefield it is a pretty good deal. It is one of the more powerful cards in the deck, but I currently only have three as they get worse in multiples. Still, it may be so good that you should just run four.

Bad Moon is the missing link that may make this deck Tier 1. It serves as Blackguards 5-8. It is not quite as powerful as the Blackguard, but it is somewhat more reliable. Brian Hacker showed the world that you can play a Black deck full of unexciting weenies and win when backed by Bad Moons… we are returning to the savage technology of 1996.

Earwig Squad, our first actual example of the Prowl mechanic, is on Arrogant Wurm detail. He serves as an efficient fatty, as well as a disruptive element. Obviously at his best against a Dragonstorm deck, where removing three Hellkites can be game winning, he is also fantastic against Damnation and Wrath of God.

Many of these decks rely so heavily on these board sweepers that without them they are at a loss against a swarm of weenies. Even if you just take Profane Command, Siege-Gang Commander, or Brine Elemental, the disruptive element is not to be ignored. There is a reason why people used to spend six mana Jester’s Capping an opponent. Now, thanks to Prowl, we can spend half that and get a 5/3 body.

One must not underestimate the value of being able to search an opponent’s library. With quick thinking, one should be able to determine the important information regarding contents of an opponent’s hand. In addition, it helps to know what you should play around.

Finally, turn 2 Blackguard, turn 3 Earwig is hard for a lot of people to deal with. It sucks that Earwig can’t fight Doran very well, but he is good at what he does.

Marsh Flitter is the best card in the deck that doesn’t directly pump other creatures. Obviously it is bananas with Blackguard or Bad Moon, but it is also crucial to fighting creature combat. At the end of the day, Marsh Flitter is just a far more powerful card than most people credit. I would play seven copies if I could.

Shriekmaw is my concession to removal. I am not convinced that this shouldn’t just be some other removal, but at least it doubles as a reasonable man. Still, it is just so good against Goyf, Crusher, and other such men that it is hard for me to seriously think about not playing some.

Noggin Whack is sort of a Deep Analysis in that it provides undercosted card advantage. The added disruption is key for fighting control and combo decks. Often, Noggin Whack is simply better than Hymn to Tourach, and that is pretty good.

The Urborg is self-explanatory, although it should be noted that it is particularly useful for working with six non-Black sources of mana.

The Pendelhavens are just nuts. It is your primary answer to your nightmare, Desert. In addition, it is very good for creature combat in a deck with 19 ways to produce 1/1 creatures. It is important to note that it destroys the mirror too. I even am currently playing a third in the board to help combat these match-ups. You have to replace Bad Moon with something against the mirror, and you certainly want to beat Desert.

The Mutavaults live up to the hype, allowing you to keep Prowling despite Damnation as well as giving you something to do with your excess mana middle and late game. Besides, you’re Mono-Black. Why not play four Mutavaults?

The Swamps are snow-covered so that your opponent doesn’t know if you have Mouth of Ronom or Phyrexian Ironfoot. As a matter of fact, it may even be correct to play the Mouth.

The Nameless Inversions in the board are for Elves and the Mirror, and is just a fine card in itself.

Deathmark is primarily for Doran and Elves, although it has other uses.

Thoughtseize is obviously for control and combo decks, although there is no shame in boarding in one to go along with three Nameless Inversions, a Pendelhaven, and a Warhammer, in place of four Bad Moons and two Shriekmaws in the mirror. It could certainly be considered for maindeck inclusion, but I currently want to stay heavy on creatures.

Pithing Needle is aimed at Desert, Planeswalkers, and Dragonstorm, but can find a plethora of other uses.

The Warhammer is a miser’s card that sometimes is just the sickest.

The third Pendelhaven might not be needed due to Bad Moon, but I just love drawing it so much, particularly against other people with Pendelhavens.

I played this deck and variations of it against Mannequin, R/G Big Mana, B/G Midrange, Kithkin, and Elves with solid results. I was pretty excited about this particular project and went to write about it. That brings us to now.

Looking at the decklist, I have to wonder… why wouldn’t this deck simply be the sickness in Lorwyn Block?

First of all, it remains almost entirely intact. Second, it beats up on Standard Mannequin. If Mannequin is dominating the Block scene, this looks good on a deck’s resume. Finally, it seems that Lorwyn Block Constructed favors highly synergistic strategies (such as Mannequin, Elves, and Goblins).

Here is a prototype for Lorwyn Block Constructed.

Mono-B Rogues Lorwyn Block Constructed

4 Nightshade Stinger
4 Prickly Boggart
4 Oona’s Prowler
4 Oona’s Blackguard
4 Bitterblossom
4 Earwig Squad
1 Auntie’s Snitch
4 Stinkdrinker Bandit
4 Marsh Flitter
4 Noggin Whack
4 Mutavault
19 Swamp

There are a few important differences. First of all, without Bad Moon, we are relying on Stinkdrinker Bandit to give our men the pump. This guy may even be good enough for the Standard version, although it may be that his lack of combat worthiness is too great.

Second of all, there is only one Auntie’s Snitch, basically just as a 37th spell. That card turned out to be less exciting than it looks, although it should be noted that it is sick in the Looter Il-Kor version. It is very possible that this guy should be a Frogtosser. I may just be crazy for not playing Frogtossers, but that is my current experiment. The lack of evasion is huge.

Finally, the land is a lot less sexy, but what are you gonna do?

This project is one that I think holds a lot of promise. It is most like U/G Madness and has the potential to be just as dominating. It will be interesting to see how post-Morningtide Standard and Block shape up, though I think it is a safe bet to consider this archetype an important part of the metagame to come.

Take care, my friends. See you next week.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”