Everyone wants to play with Death Cloud.
I mean, just look at the card. It just screams”I Win!” Let’s list what the card does… It does damage. It makes people sacrifice creatures. It makes people discard their hands. It makes people sacrifice their lands. How sexy is that? And the kicker is that you can play with four of them in your deck! But… it costs three Black mana you say? There’s no deck that plays Black mana! Well, what if I were to tell you that you’re wrong, and that there is a deck that plays Black mana, and it even top 8’d a large qualifier (a”Worlds Qualifer” qualifier) tournament (and got mentioned here)? You’d probably ask me to show it to you! Tough luck.
No, I’m just kidding. I’ll show it to you.
Mono-Black Death Cloud v 1.0
2 Unholy Grotto
2 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Chrome Mox
4 Echoing Decay
4 Rotlung Reanimator
4 Chittering Rats
2 Bane of the Living
2 Phyrexian Arena
3 Graveborn Muse
3 Withered Wretch
2 Greater Harvester
4 Death Cloud
4 Shattered Dreams
2 Bane of the Living
4 Dark Banishing
Since that top 8, the deck’s undergone some changes. Here is the current list which I ran in the Worlds Qualifier:
Mono-Black Death Cloud V. 2.0
1 Unholy Grotto
2 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Chrome Mox
4 Guardian Idol
4 Echoing Decay
4 Rotlung Reanimator
4 Chittering Rats
2 Night’s Whisper
3 Graveborn Muse
3 Withered Wretch
3 Greater Harvester
4 Death Cloud
3 Bane of the Living
4 Dark Banishing
Basically, the deck’s designed to accelerate to a Death Cloud or other broken spell while not losing too much card advantage on the way. These spells regain everything and more that you may have lost, and then you have a deck that’s much better prepared for the rest of the game than your opponent.
You rarely use this land’s ability, but it’s a life saver when you do. I once un-decked myself during my upkeep to win against a milling deck. Sometimes you recycle your Muses to run a U/W deck out of counters and Wraths. Sometimes you put a Rotlung on top to guarantee that you’re attacking for lethal damage next turn, no matter what spell they topdeck. This was moved to a one-of due to mana troubles from the now-included Guardian Idols and because LD decks are out in force, and, if they know what they’re doing, they’re killing your Swamps with Molten Rain, not your Nexus or Grotto.
This is the land that you keep after a Death Cloud. You should almost never activate it beforehand, because LD shouldn’t cost 1 mana.
Blatant card disadvantage – but it doesn’t matter. This deck has so many cards that you only want to draw one of, that Chrome Mox is practically a Mox Jet. Also, when you figure in the card disadvantage, you have to count in the extra discard off of a Headhunter for your opponent, your turn-early Chittering Rats, and the extra card you get when you Persecute. It’s great for”taking the lead” in land terms, so that the Death Cloud devastates them more than you, and let’s not forget that you’d be tossing all those cards to a Death Cloud anyway, so why not imprint the Mox? Finally, it can be played unimprinted as a free sacrifice for the Greater Harvester. Chrome Mox is the card that I most want to see in my opening hand, and is often a card that I am hoping to topdeck on turn 4 or 5 when I Cloud. The inclusion of Guardian Idol makes Mox even more broken, since turn 2 Muses and Persecutes, and turn 3 Death Clouds, Harvesters, and Banes for four (no joke) now have a chance of happening more than once in a blue moon.
This is a fairly standard inclusion in dedicated black decks. It’s insane off of a Mox, counts as a Cleric for Rotlung, and gets its beat on as a morph. After a Death Cloud the discard ability regains some of its worth. Don’t forget that your opponent might think it’s a Blistering Firecat and play accordingly!
Kills all the creatures in Affinity that matters besides Ravagers. This is the all purpose removal that is dead against almost no deck. Against Gobs and Affinity it shines, against U/W it kills chumpblocking soldiers, against Mono-R it kills Sliths and surprise-shrinks Arc-Sloggers (important when they’re fighting against Banes…) and also gets rid of all those annoying 2/2s running around in today’s environment. You almost never side out more than two of these.
Solid but almost never spectacular. This is your stall card against Affinity (It also gives you tokens if you kill your opponent’s Disciple) and it instills fear in your opponent if they can’t kill it because of Death Cloud.
This is the card that you most want to draw after a Death Cloud. I’ll let you figure out why. Against control decks in the late game, if they’re holding cards, this is generally a 2/2 Time Walk. You need to be able to recognize them when that happens arise and take advantage of it.
Bane of the Living
It’s obviously decent against Affinity, great against Goblins, and serves as a decent beater against control decks. 2/2 is an unfortunate size in today’s environment, but if you have five mana, it’s not usually a problem. This is another great topdeck post Cloud.
Phyrexian Arena/Night’s Whisper
If you resolve Arena on turn 2 against any control deck, it’s practically game over. It survives Death Cloud, makes Greater Harvester about ten times better, and gives you more cards. You can’t go wrong with more cards. Do not play this against an Affinity deck on turn 2 unless you’re absolutely sure that you’re going to put the game away quickly. Goblins, however, can’t usually instantaneously lower your life total, making it a much safer turn 2 play, especially if you’re going first.
Arena was taken out and replaced with Night’s Whisper for a variety of reasons. You can cast Night’s Whisper against Affinity and not lose because of it. Also, the deck was clogged at the three-mana slot and suffered for it. That characteristic of the deck was great after a Death Cloud, when you only have three mana, but was horrible when you got opening hands with 4 lands, 2 Chittering Rats, and a Rotlung. Night’s Whisper stays a great card against control while smoothing the mana curve a little and giving you less dead cards vs. Affinity.
Don’t die to this card. That said, one of the best openings against U/W is having them let this guy through their counters to Wrath him away instead of wasting a counter, then Persecuting them when they’re tapped out. Then play another one. 3/3 is very large against most decks, as well. I repeat: Do not die to this card. It’s very embarrassing. That means that he’s pretty much a Black card for your Mox in the Affinity matchup. Even if you think you can beat down pretty quickly against Affinity with this guy, you generally shouldn’t. In order to beat down you need more guys, meaning more Zombies, meaning more life points than you should probably give away.
It’s a Zombie for those synergies; it’s a Cleric for those other ones. The fact that it removes Dragons and anything else from graveyards can also be important. This is a very important support card in the mirror, as it counters Grotto activations (Muse is really good in the mirror, as is Rotlung). This is nothing short of a bomb in the G/W matchup, as it makes their Eternal Dragons into Noble Templars and their Eternal Witnesses into really bad cards.
A.K.A. Imprint for the Moxen. This guy can be stopped in so many ways, but if he gets through it’s generally game over. 5/6 is an absolutely monstrous body, so don’t be afraid to use him as a blocker if you have some extra cards coming in from somewhere. I upped the number of this monster to three after including Guardian Idols, since Harvester was coming out on turn 3 so often with them in the deck. Turn 3 (resolved) Harvester is”GG” against almost any deck in the format, especially if you went first.
Death Cloud: This used to be a two-of. Then I realized that I won something like 70% of my games in which I resolved this spell. Extras either get held back in case the first one gets countered or get put on Moxen. This is the card that makes this deck work, as it’s the trump card against both aggro decks and control decks.
This was a later inclusion that should be a four-of almost without question. It helps you get to your broken four-mana/five-mana spells, speeds you up to Death Cloud, and gives you a mana source that doesn’t die to it, and costs exactly three mana to beat with after a Cloud, which is exactly the amount of mana that you have. The only way I’d take these out was if the metagame got flooded with maindeck artifact hate, and even then I’d question the decision.
Sideboard: I will discuss this with the matchups.
Some people like this guy to gain back some life. The problem is that most of the time he’s just going to be a 2/2 for three with a meaningless ability, which just doesn’t cut it when you’re facing Affinity or Goblins. Being able to gain back life at some point is nice, but against the decks where life points matter, you’re not going to have guys that you can just throw away.
This allows you to kill Arcbound Ravager and Goblin Warchief without worry of them being pumped, but at the cost of not killing Frogmites, tokens from Decree, or being able to two-for-one (or Darksteel Pendant). Playing both is definitely not an option when so many decks aren’t running good targets.
Barter in Blood
This is seen in the more controllish version of Mono-Black, but is pretty terrible with all of the creatures in this deck.
While drawing a card after a Death Cloud is pretty nice, as is searching out an extra land, this deck has better things to do at four mana, such as playing a mini-Necropotence or stripping the opponent’s hand.
These were once in the sideboard, but I realized how much better Headhunters are. You want to be doing damage and committing more cards to the board against control decks, which Interrogator doesn’t let you do. He’s still great vs. control, but I found that way too often he was swinging for one on turn 3 while I played a Chittering Rat. Maybe that’s the incorrect way to play with him, but when the control decks are packing”you lose” spells like Tooth and Nail and Obliterate, I don’t think that sitting back and taking 1 card per turn is the correct strategy.
Devour in Shadow
This is another card that I could see playing in the correct metagame, but definitely not right now. You won’t want to use this against Affinity, and against other decks I think that Echoing Decay is almost universally the more effective choice.
That’s all well and good. But how does it fare in today’s blistering fast environment? Trying to survive to four or five mana is tougher than it used to be! Still, the deck is better than you might think. I’m going to try not to give any percentages as I write these, since the numbers are probably altered by the fact that almost no one online knows that this deck exists, and therefore has no knowledge of sideboarding strategy, etc., and because I’m coming off quite the streak with the deck, so right now I’d probably say that it’s about 80% against the field. We all know it’s probably closer to 70%.
This deck has almost no chance of beating the Affinity nuts draw. However, if you can get out of the first three turns without taking major damage, you’re a good step towards winning. Game one, you’re playing for the Death Cloud. Chump aggressively with Rats and Rotlungs to get them to sacrifice lands to Ravager and preserve your life points. As soon as a Cloud will sweep their creatures, you should generally do it, regardless of what you’re sweeping from your board. Their stuff gets exponentially better, while yours doesn’t. A Death Cloud will generally mess up their colored mana, allowing your deck to just out-topdeck them. Sometimes they’ll be really good and topdeck two Shrapnel Blasts off the top and just kill you, or a free Frogmite when they have no lands, but you generally win post-Cloud. Watch out for Blinkmoth Nexi, though, as they can do a lot of damage quickly with that and Cranial Plating.
Sideboarding: +3 Bane of the Living, +4 Infest, +4 Banishing
-2 Persecute, -3 Greater Harvester, -4 Headhunter, -2 Graveborn Muse
Post Sideboard you have solid ways to deal with all of their threats. The two ways that they generally win are with Ravager and with Shrapnel Blasts, so your strategy is to cut off one way, then the other. To beat Shrapnel Blasts, chump aggressively to keep your life points high (preferably above twelve) and try to cast Death Cloud when they’re tapped out. If you’re going first, Ravager isn’t much of a problem, since it dies to a Decay, Infest, or Banishing.
Going second, they have a chance to play more stuff, so that means the counters can jump to something else, and that they have more artifacts to sacrifice, making Infest and Decay less effective. Infest and Decay are almost worthless with Ravager out, so kill it as fast as possible. When the coast is clear, try to cast a Cloud for enough to take out their hand, creatures, and lands. However, unlike game 1, a Cloud is not always necessary to win post-sideboarding. This matchup is significantly in your favor against an average Affinity player, but if they know how to play the matchup (not blowing Spheres and Spellbombs right away, etc.) it can be a lot tougher.
You can’t get a matchup that’s much better than Goblins. Their best spells are dead cards against you, and their clock is generally slow enough to allow you to use the card-drawing. In game 1 try to use the Muses to set up an amazing board and just beat them down. When you’re drawing more than one card per turn, you’re usually able to Death Cloud for their whole board at some point, leaving you with three or four lands. You win a couple turns after that.
Sideboarding: +4 Infest, +4 Banishing, +3 Bane of the Living
-2 Persecute, -3 Greater Harvester, -4 Headhunter, -1-2 Withered Wretch, -0-1 Graveborn Muse
If you’re playing first, there’s generally no big need for blockers on turn 2, especially if you’re holding Infest. That’s why two Wretches come out if you’re going first and just 1 if you’re going second. The ability on Wretch is almost meaningless, even against Goblin Bidding, since they should never hit 5 mana and have a hand.
After boarding you have eight Wrath effects as well as the ability to kill almost any goblin on sight. Killing Sledder is fairly important, as is killing the Warchief. The other goblins all die easily to Infest without doing major damage. If they’re playing Bidding, try to Death Cloud just to keep them off five mana. Generally they’ll give up the Bidding plan and get rid of the Swamps, meaning that you don’t have to worry about losing to a random topdeck. This is pretty much the best matchup that you can get.
Vs. Tooth and Nail
This matchup is a coin flip. You can make them discard, attempt to wreck their manabase, whatever, and they’ll just play whatever they draw until they get the Urza’s set and then they’ll topdeck a Tooth and Nail. Reap and Sow keeps your mana low so that you can’t just Cloud away whatever they Tooth for, and Mindslaver wrecks you if they find a Persecute or Decay in your hand. Your nutty draws (Turn 1 Headhunter, turn 2 Rotlung, turn 3 Muse, turn 4 Harvester/Cloud) or anything similar just beat them, however.
Sideboarding: +1 Persecute, + 3 Dark Banishing, +3 Blackmail
-4 Echoing Decay, -3 Withered Wretch
Vine Trellis stops much of your force, so Banishings come in to help out in that respect. Blackmail comes to just force a discard early or take a bomb later. The matchup doesn’t play much differently after board… you’re just trying to get a Headhunter through a couple times followed by a Death Cloud for their mana base and the rest of their hand.
Vs. G/W Slide
This is a relatively new archetype that abuses Astral Slide in tandem with Eternal Witness and Solemn Simulacrum. If you get a broken draw, they’re done. They have no way to deal with an early Headhunter apart from blocking it on turn 3 or sliding it out starting turn 4. They also have no easy way to avoid getting Persecuted for most of their hand (White). They do, however, have a lot of ways to stop your attacks dead around turn 4, those being Slide, Witness, and Solemn Simulacrum. You should generally use your Decays on their stuff to force damage through and force Headhunter discards so that they can’t afford to use Slide to draw cards later. After turn 5 or 6, the game turns into a race to do broken stuff. You’re looking to set up a Muse, so that you can set up a huge Death Cloud for their life total. They’re looking to set up an engine with Witnesses and Simulacrums. Withered Wretch is great here, as it lets you remove their targets for Witness and stops Eternal Dragon, making their plan much slower. Ideally, you should have an attack that, with a Death Cloud, could kill them, forcing them to Astral Slide your guys. You then Death Cloud anyway, leaving you with the army at your end of turn step. It’s not too rare with the changes in the deck to set up a Persecute on turn 2 followed by something more broken. If you get the opportunity to do that, do it.
Sideboarding: +1 Persecute, +3 Blackmail
-3 Greater Harvester, -1 Echoing Decay
You’re forcing a discard with Blackmail, as well as finding the correct color for your Persecutes. If you are setting up the Persecute, don’t forget to take the land or off-color card that they show.
After sideboarding the match plays out the same way. Your deck won’t forgive them for misplaying Astral Slide or choosing the wrong target with Witness, but theirs has the advantage of just wiping you out if the game goes too long without you getting the correct draws.
Vs. U/W and U/R
These matches play out very similarly. You have a lot of cards that they have to counter or Wrath away right away in order to stay in the game, but they have the threat of just taking over once an Eternal Dragon, Decree of Justice, or Obliterate hits. Pretty much any discard devastates them, as does Death Cloud, so if they let card drawing through they’re going to lose to one of those spells when you outdraw them, but if they waste their counter now, they might not have it next turn. You should play whatever your best spell is and run them out of counters, taking into account Condescend mana, which you can almost always pay. If they tap out, wreck them with Persecute or Death Cloud. U/W decks have Exalted Angel, which needs to be dealt with immediately, as it destroys your chance at racing them, while making your Whispers and Muses suicidal. Luckily, you have Echoing Decay, which kills morphs very easily, and Death Cloud, which is even better when they unmorph her, especially if they’re tapped out.
Sideboarding (U/W): +1 Persecute, +2 Blackmail
Sideboarding (U/R): +1 Persecte, +3 Blackmail
With the Blackmail, you’re hoping to get a peek at their hand and set up the Persecute.
Vs. Mono-R LD
This matchup is great for you. If you go first, you generally can Persecute them or play a Muse off of a Mox before their LD hits. Double Mox or a Mox/Idol opening can be golden in this matchup for exactly that reason, especially when going second. If you make it up to five mana, they have absolutely no way to deal with a Greater Harvester. Dwarven Blastminers can be a real pain if you draw any of your non-basics, so kill them quickly with any Decays you might have, and just plan on Clouding away or chumping large Sliths for awhile. Mana is what’s important in this matchup, so play accordingly. This may mean overextending into Pyroclasm so that they don’t cast LD, so that you can play Muse on your turn.
Sideboarding: +1 Persecute, +3-4 Dark Banishing, +2 Blackmail
-3-4 Echoing Decay, -3 Withered Wretch
Withered Wretch gets sided out because it’s the only card in the deck (besides Headhunter, which obviously stays in) that dies to a Pyroclasm or Bolt. Hope to play first in this matchup, and be prepared for a fairly straightforward game of getting mana-screwed or just mauling them.
Vs. R/G LD Beasts
This is a deck that shouldn’t be viable at all, but for some reasons put up some reasonable numbers in the qualifiers. There’s no reason at all that they should beat you. You have Persecutes, card drawing, and Death Cloud if they end up getting a Beast out. Ironically, this is the deck that knocked me out of my qualifier top 8 due in part to some sub-par draws, but in general a Death Cloud for two or three or Greater Harvester should put them out of the game.
Sideboarding: +1 Persecute, +4 Dark Banishing, +2 Bane of the Living, +3 Blackmail
-4 Headhunter, -4 Echoing Decay, -2 Wretch
After board you’re able to just go beatdown and Banish away the large blockers. You still have Death Cloud if things get out of hand and more card drawing than they do.
Vs. The Mirror
Because this deck is hardly played right now, I don’t have much experience playing the mirror match. What I do know is that resolving Persecute is very, very important. If you don’t have a Persecute, it’s important to get a card drawer onto the board to help you recover after your opponent Persecutes you. Withered Wretch removes important zombies from their graveyard, and Rotlung Reanimator is generally the most important attacker. If you’ve got a Graveborn Muse out, you have to be careful not to accidentally make too many Zombies with a Rotlung, or to take too long in setting up, as Death Cloud can burn you out from a fairly high life total when both players are hitting almost all of their land drops. In the early game, Persecute is, without a doubt, the biggest threat, but after the first five or six turns I’m not very sure which card decides who wins.
Sideboarding: +1 Persecute, +2 Bane of the Living, +4 Infest (?)
-3 Greater Harvester, -4 Headhunter (?), -4 Echoing Decay (?)
I’m not really sure whether spot removal is worth it, as Infest can’t kill Muse and does almost nothing with a Rotlung out. Going first, the Headhunter and removal plan could work, but a Rotlung pretty much stops that strategy cold, leaving you with a cleric that could turn into a Zombie for them. The only thing I’m sure about it adding Banes and Persecutes for some Mind Twist and Wrath of God action, and taking out Greater Harvester, since it’s only going to get tossed to a Persecute, imprinted, or chumpblocked for ages.
Why does this deck work?
That’s what I’ve been asking myself on Magic: Online for the last few weeks as I take down Affinity deck after Affinity deck despite them getting great draws. Part of it is that people simply don’t understand how to play against the deck. Affinity decks need to keep their Disciples in hand if there’s a Rotlung out and keep Chromatic Spheres in play for free post-Cloud draws. Goblins needs to be careful not to overextend into an Infest without letting Death Cloud wipe out their hand. U/W decks need to counter everything, and not rely on Wraths to take care of some threats.
Another problem for other decks is that they aren’t sideboarding correctly. Although it may be counterintuitive, Shock and Electrostatic Bolt are absolutely horrendous against this deck, especially if it’s a Goblin deck or Affinity deck using them. There simply aren’t enough shockable creatures in the deck after boarding (unless you’re dumb and activating Nexus before it’s necessary).
Finally, this deck attacks certain decks on so many fronts that they can’t possibly stop it all with running too many narrow answers. Control decks have to run a way to stop a turn 1 Headhunter, a turn 5 Death Cloud, and Chittering Rat beatdown, all without letting you draw cards off of a Muse. Some U/R decks I play against keep in Annul after boarding, when they only things that they can counter are Mox (and Arena, if they suspect it) with it. It’s hardly the optimal plan, but when they have no other answer, they have to hope to get lucky with drawing the correct answer every time. Aggro decks need to watch out for overextending without letting Death Cloud wreck them. What makes this even tougher for them is that your creatures don’t lose you card advantage if you play them before a Cloud or Infest, because they either don’t die, or replace themselves on the board or in your hand.
That said, this deck is far from unbeatable. Certain cards are almost mulligans against the wrong decks. Echoing Decay against a control deck is just asking to be wrecked by Mindslaver and Greater Harvester has”CHUMP ME” written in large letters across his forehead against Goblins and Affinity. Now that people know that this deck’s out there, they’ll be ready to sideboard against it and play better in general, so its winning percentage may sink because of that. It is a lot of fun to play, though, and you get to play with some of the most powerful cards in Darksteel, so it’s all good.
As I said, I qualified for the Worlds Qualifier on Magic: Online with this deck, where I went 6-4 in the big event.
Overall, I was satisfied with the deck. It didn’t perform quite as well against Affinity as I honestly expected, but did excellently against the more controllish decks. It was disappointing not to run into any U/W or Mono-Red LD, since I feel that those are some of my better matchups, but Affinity was the majority of the field, so you have to accept running into it several times. Maybe the Shattered Dreams that used to be in the sideboard still belong there for the Affinity matchup, but they’re so mediocre against everything else that I question their inclusion. If you have an idea for how to make the deck more consistent against Affinity, or deckbuilding ideas in general, let me know in the forums.
Hopefully you enjoyed this look at one of the lesser known decks in Standard. If your metagame is flooded with control and red decks, give this deck a whirl. I guarantee that your opponent will be questioning their initial assessment of Greater Harvester as a”crap rare.” Unless they’re playing Astral Slide. Then they’ll probably laugh at you.
Scottyiih913 at hotmail dot com