King of the Compost Heap: New Black Control

Shortly after the prerelease, I did what most players probably did- I went home and built some black decks. A few were decent…. But most were pretty lousy. Annoyed, I tossed my Black creations in the dreaded”work-in-progress” box and spent my time testing other colors and color-combinations. Then work in my college classes kicked into…

Shortly after the Torment prerelease, I did what most players probably did- I went home and built some black decks. A few were decent…. But most were pretty lousy. Annoyed, I tossed my Black creations in the dreaded”work-in-progress” box and spent my time testing other colors and color-combinations. Then work in my college classes kicked into high gear and I lost my testing time. Oh, well… I can still secretly read Star City articles during my Computer Science class.

In fact, it was during one of these surreptitious reading sessions that I came across this:

Siberian Tiger

By Wesley Chang

4 Duress

2 Persecute

4 Innocent Blood

4 Chainer’s Edict

3 Mutilate

4 Gravestorm

4 Phyrexian Arena

2 Morbid Hunger

3 Corrupt

2 Death Grasp

2 Soul Burn

2 Haunting Echoes

17 Swamps

3 Cabal Coffers

3 Tainted Field

3 Caves of Koilos

I didn’t think the deck looked very promising… But it got me thinking about black again. When I got home, I sacrificed writing an essay on contemporary literary criticism to brainstorm ideas on a new black deck (don’t worry, I’m not as bad of a student as I make myself out to be). I opened the”work-in-progress” box to let my black cards breathe again, and started writing.

I analyzed all the cards I liked in the deck, and put check marks by these. When this was done, I had eliminated Cabal Coffers, Soul Burn, Morbid Hunger, and Gravestorm. I also had big question marks next to Persecute, Phyrexian Arena, and Death Grasp.

The Coffers was the easiest to eliminate, on the basis that it is just not a good card. Look at it:

Cabal Coffers


2, Tap: Add B to your mana pool for each Swamp you control.

First of all, the Coffers doesn’t produce mana on its own – colorless or otherwise – meaning it will likely set you back for a turn or more (similar to the”comes into play tapped” lands), unless it is played late game. Secondly, it isn’t even a Swamp, meaning it doesn’t enhance the effects of Mind Sludge, Corrupt, or Mutilate. Finally, it takes two colorless and tapping to activate!

Here’s the breakdown of your mana investment (assuming you never miss a Swamp drop):

Turn One: Worthless

Turn Two: Worthless

Turn Three: Worthless

Turn Four: Break Even

Turn Five: +1 Mana

Turn Six: +2 Mana

Turn Seven: +3 Mana

Turn Eight: +4 Mana

Please take into account that never missing a swamp drop is a pretty big assumption – especially when you discover that not all black decks running Coffers include twenty-eight lands like Balancing Tings. And while they don’t run a ton of land, many do splash nifty secondary colors like Green and White for lands like Tainted Field and Llanowar Wastes, which…

Don’t help their Coffers one bit….

I’ve seen far too many decks sporting four of these. Seriously, people, in a metagame where R/G Beats thrives, do you really want these in your opening hand?

And what is up with that name”Cabal Coffers?” Just what are Cabal Coffers, anyway? I thought I knew, but to be sure I checked the one book every writer must have- a thesaurus. First we’ve got Cabal – according to my thesaurus: a plot, a scheme, an intrigue, a conspiracy, a plan, or a trick. And Coffers? Well, a coffer is a box, bin, chest, bunker, or other container. Let’s mix and match.”Conspiracy Box?””Trick bunker?””Scheme-in-a-Chest?” If you ask me, the Naming Department stretched their synonyms too far this time. Couldn’t they have just lazily dubbed it”Chainer’s Lake?” After all, doesn’t Chainer’s name appear on far too many black cards already?

Well, most of us know it’s not a Lake of the Dead…but maybe it could be a Creek of the Dead.

But I digress…

The first real decision I had to make was whether my deck would splash another color. This decision hinged on the relative power of three cards: Gerrard’s Verdict, Death Grasp, and Vindicate.

I had already discounted Spectral Lynx because the environment had become too hostile for it. Historically, Black has laughed at regenerators, using cards like Enfeeblement and Diabolic Edict to smite them. With the introduction of Torment, Type II gained Mutilate and Chainer’s Edict, which inspired a horde of Black decks using these cards alongside Faceless Butchers and Innocent Blood. None of these cards make a hospital habitat for the pointy-eared regenerator.

I built and tested a Black/White deck running Death Grasp, Gerrard’s Verdict, and Vindicate… And was not impressed. Although Caves of Koilos and Tainted Field balanced out the mana, I never seemed to have enough swamps to make Mutilate a Black Wrath. Death Grasp wasn’t spectacular – only decent – and Gerrard’s Verdict was strong, but what really convinced me to ditch the White was Vindicate. Every game I would want to kill a creature on turn 2, and every game I got smacked by that creature before my Vindicate could dispatch it. This, along with the fact that creature-heavy decks are big in Type II at the moment, convinced me to swap the Vindicates for cheaper creature destruction. Enchantments didn’t appear to be very popular, so I figured I would survive without Disenchant.

Up until a few days ago, I was only toying with the idea of writing an article about Type II. Then I read some statements that moved me into action.

Finally, thanks to Jarrod Bright’s article, awareness about mono-black was soon rising, and I started to seriously worrying about black hosers. I started seeing Compost in people’s sideboards, along with Circle of Protection: Black. Mono-black just rolls over and dies to these hosers…

– Elliot Fertik

You can’t beat Compost.

Sean McKeown

For those still unfamiliar with this stinky pile…


1G, Enchantment

Whenever a black card is put into an opponent’s graveyard, you may draw a card.

Yes, this is the enchantment that makes Black cry – and is even used in Type I.

I must admit, despite their confident (some might say”overconfident”) rhetoric, both writers did give decent suggestions for how to combat Compost: Splash Green. This way, you can run Pernicious Deed to destroy the Compost, use Spiritmonger as a finisher, and you can side in Compost against all the other Black mages (isn’t that just sick?).

But what kind of a black mage would make an alliance with green?!

I knew white didn’t work in my deck, and splashing green didn’t enchant me – but I also knew that if it remained mono-black, I would have to have some answers for Compost.

I was flipping through my Type II play-stock when a card caught my eye – Millstone. I remember playing Millstone”back in the day,” when I milled away half of my opponent’s library, then removed it from the game with a Tormod’s Crypt. While Tormod’s Crypt is definitely not Type II, an illegitimate cousin of it is. Behold!

Haunting Echoes



Remove all cards in target player’s graveyard other than basic land cards from the game. Search that player’s library for all cards with the same name as cards removed this way and remove them from the game. Then that player shuffles his or her library.

Surely an opponent will not be as excited about drawing cards when I’ve just removed half their library from the game and I have a Millstone on the table. I imported this combo into the deck I had designed.

I tested the deck against Rocket Shoes with Compost in the board. I won. Then I lost. Then I won the last game. I felt good; I had just beat Compost, my deck’s worst enemy. It should be noted that the one game I lost was because my opponent scorched me with multiple Urza’s Rages and Volcanic Hammers. (Well, that’s kind of what R/G does – The Ferrett) From this game, and other subsequent tests, I ascertained that I needed more life-gaining material; I ended up adding another Corrupt.

I present for your consideration:

Black Stones

4 Duress

4 Addle

4 Innocent Blood

4 Chainer’s Edict

4 Nantuko Shade

3 Mutilate

3 Skeletal Scrying

2 Millstone

2 Haunting Echoes

2 Meekstone

2 Corrupt

1 Ravenous Rats

25 Swamp

The Mana Curve:

1 cc: 10

2cc: 15

3 cc: 3

4cc: 3

5cc: 2

6cc: 2

Black Stones has two kill mechanisms:

    1. Use massive board-sweepers like Mutilate to clear the terrain of enemy critters, and thump them to death in a few turns with a Nantuko Shade.
    2. Use Millstone, along with hand and creature destruction, and Haunting Echoes to deck them.

For those who haven’t put much thought into the name, the deck is mono-black – hence the Black part of the title – and the Stones part is based on the uncharacteristic inclusion of both Millstone and Meekstone.

Here’s a brief explanation of some of the card choices that might not be immediately apparent.

Ravenous Rats: I already do not use many creatures in Black Stones, as it would work against my Mutilates. I chose the Rats over Mesmeric Fiend because the Rats force the opponent to put another card into the graveyard (strengthening Haunting Echoes), and because the Rats have a good chance of dying, either by chump-blocking or by friendly fire (Mutilate or Innocent Blood). Although the Mesmeric Fiend removes a card in hand from the game (and lets you pick the card), when it dies, the card returns to the hand it was removed from.

Skeletal Scrying: It is an instant, making it better against control than Phyrexian Arena. The”drawback” of removing cards from your graveyard works to your advantage if the opponent is running Haunting Echoes in his or her deck. Phyrexian Arena is also a good choice for this slot.

Corrupt: Obviously I try to limit the number of expensive casting cost cards in the deck… But the life-gain was needed. With all Swamps, you’ll always get at least six life off of a Corrupt, and a twelve-point life swing is nothing to sneeze at.

Meekstone: Stops Shambling Swarm, Flametongue Kavu, Terravore, Laquatus’s Champion, Skizzik, Nimble Mongoose, and Werebear (with threshold), Mystic Enforcer, Call of the Herd/ Roar of the Wurm tokens, Raging Kavu, most WW creatures when pumped by Divine Sacrament/Glorious Anthem, Mahamoti Djinn, Serra Angel, Desolation Angel, Stalking Bloodsucker, and many more. In a creature dominated format, Meekstone is a vital one-drop. A highly underrated card.

Addle: Powerful in any player’s hands who has an idea of what his or her opponent is playing. The fact that Addle does not limit the type of card you can pick (other than the color), it is basically just a cheap Coercion. It also gets better the turn after a Duress because you already know the contents of your opponent’s hand. Quick one-drops and two-drops like Duress and Addle surgically pick apart the opponent’s hand in addition to filling your graveyard early – which you will need when you use Skeletal Scrying to refill (at least partially) your hand.

There are multiple advantages to running only Swamps:

  1. Your mana is more consistent than dual-colored decks.
  2. Mutilate, Mind Sludge, and Corrupt are stronger.
  3. It is easier to pump a Nantuko Shade.
  4. No damage from painlands, making you harder to burn out.
  5. Matchups against Braids are easier. If you have to destroy your land, dual-colored decks get mana-screwed more often than mono colored decks.
  6. No lands come into play tapped.
  7. No wasted land in your opening hand (read: Cabal Coffers).
  8. (For those that care) You truly are a black mage.

Here is a sample game against one of Black Stones’s worst enemies, Frog in a Blender.

Black Stones vs. Frog

Frog wins die roll. Frog plays first.

Frog: Karplusan Forest. Go.

Black: Swamp, Duress, pull Fiery Temper – Frog pays Madness cost – zaps Black for three. Black is at seventeen life. Go.

Frog: Forest, Wild Mongrel. Go.

Black: Swamp, Chainer’s Edict – Mongrel dies. Go.

Frog: Forest, Grim Lavamancer. Frog is at eighteen life. Go.

Black: Swamp, Innocent Blood/Chainer’s Edict. – Lavamancer dies – Go.

Frog: Call of the Herd. Go.

Black: Swamp, Go.

Frog: Skizzik – Black responds by playing Skeletal Scrying for three; Black now has no graveyard, but draws three cards. Black is at fourteen life. Frog swings for eight; Black is at six. Go.

Black: Swamp, Mutilate, all your critters die! Go.

Frog: Forest, Llanowar Elves. Go.

Black: Haunting Echoes – remove Wild Mongrel (x4), Call of the Herd (x4), Fiery Temper (x3), Grim Lavamancer (x3), Skizzik (x2) or Kavu Titan (x3). Go.

Frog: Mountain/Karplusan Forest, Yavimaya Barbarian. Swing with Elf. Black is at five life. Go.

Black: Nantuko Shade. Go.

Frog: Swing with Barbarian and Elf – Shade blocks and pumps for two, Barbarian dies. Black is at four or nine life. Go.

Black: Swamp, Corrupt you for six – in response, Frog plays Urza’s Rage – Black is at one life. Corrupt resolves. Black is at seven life. Frog is at twelve life.

Frog: Rage you! Black is at four life. Swing with Elf. Black is at three life.

Black: Millstone. Activate Millstone – mills Barbarian Ring, Forest.

Frog: Llanowar Elf. Go.

Black: Swamp, Nantuko Shade. Activate Millstone – mills Urza’s Rage, Mountain. Go.

Frog: Mountain/Mossfire Valley/Karplusan Forest. Go.

Black: Innocent Blood. Elf dies, Shade dies. Swing with Nantuko Shade, Elf chumps, Shade pumps for one.

Frog: (topdecks Flametongue Kavu) Flametongue Kavu – four damage to Shade, Shade pumps in response. Go.

Black: Swamp, Activate Millstone – mills Mossfire Valley, Flametongue Kavu. Haunting Echoes – removing Flametongue Kavu (x3), Mossfire Valley (x1), Llanowar Elf (x4), Barbarian Ring (x2), Urza’s Rage (x4), and Yavimaya Barbarian (x2). Go.

Frog: Flametongue attacks, Shade chumps – both die. Go.

Black: Swamp, Nantuko Shade. Activate Millstone – mill Mountain, Mountain. Go.

Frog: (topdecks Fire/Ice) Karplusan Forest, Fire you. Black is at one life. Go.

Black: Swamp, Swing with Shade for 12.

Game Over. Black wins.

This is a sample game. This does not happen every game. Frog could have won if he had pulled another burn spell (or two), or beat a few more times with a creature. However, Frog already pulled some amazing post-Haunting Echoes topdecks – and still lost. Frog played first- and still lost. Infer from this sample game what you will…

Here are some sideboard options for Black Stones:


Ravenous Rats

Yawgmoth’s Agenda




Soul Feast

Haunting Echoes


Laquatus’s Champion

Diabolic Tutor

Mind Sludge

Kudos to Carl Jarrell, whose quick thinking reminded us of Bereavement, the (almost) anti-Compost.

On a final note, while I was writing this article, I happened across a very similar deck by Stanley Rutkowski III. At first, I was annoyed because I felt that”my original idea” had already been claimed by another person. Ironically, immediately thereafter I read this:

“I, for one, don’t think that the net is ever going to be the birthplace of a legitimately new idea. Okay, it will – but not nearly as often as us writer guys like to think. I do believe that for every ‘revolutionary’ Bargain, Trinity Green, or Replenish decklist or article you read on the net, it’s old hat to a ton of guys who have broken it to hell and back in a game of ‘attack left multiplayer’ over pizza and beer.”

– John”Friggin'” Rizzo

After that, the problem seemed small and I let it go. I took a Rizzo-prescribed chill pill and finished my article. Good for Stanley. Great minds think alike, yo.

As always, I welcome any feedback you might have about the deck, its place in the metagame, specific card choices, or pretty much anything Magic-related. Until next time, best wishes to you all, and keep reading the great articles on StarCity for tips on the metagame!

Jeremy Edwards

[email protected]

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