TURBO BLACK: From Deck Design To Tournament Victory In Five Days

Rumor has it that is not going to make the cut into Seventh Edition. I’m not going to launch into some diatribe about that decision. Actually, I think it is probably for the better – in the long run. Lately Wizards has done an excellent job of making the game based more on skill and…

Rumor has it that Dark Ritual is not going to make the cut into Seventh Edition. I’m not going to launch into some diatribe about that decision. Actually, I think it is probably for the better – in the long run. Lately Wizards has done an excellent job of making the game based more on skill and less on luck of the draw. Sure, there have been quite a few bannings along the way, but how can the Wizards testing team win the build-a-broken-deck contest when competing against the imaginations of millions of players across the world?

The problem with Ritual is that having it in your opening hand can have a fundamental effect on your chances on winning the game. In other words, having the luck to draw the Ritual becomes an unfair factor because it just allows you to win games – or at least get off to a very good start.

Although, I agree with Wizards’ emphasis on skill rather than luck, I’m determined to abuse Ritual while it is still around. In fact, breaking Ritual in Type II is at the top of my list of Magic goals right now. I want a deck where opponents hold their breath on my first turn, fearing the quick fattie. Let’s review some promising first turns against popular archetypes:

Against Fires, Rebels, and Blue Skies:
Swamp, Ritual, Plague Spitter

Versus Nether-Go and U/W Control:
Swamp, Ritual, Chimeric Idol

If you’re really lucky, this is also quite potent:
Swamp, Ritual, Ritual, Thrashing Wumpus

These are the kind of openings that just win you games. They exemplify the reasons that Wizards will probably drop Ritual from its next core set.

Another excellent start looks something like this:
Turn One: Swamp
Turn Two: Swamp, Ritual, Phyrexian Scuta

Having a 5/5 creature on turn two puts your opponent on a very fast clock. The Scuta must be quickly dealt with, or it is game over.

With that said, let’s talk deck design. I’m thinking mono-black, aggressive control. With the above combinations in mind, the core of the deck is:

4x Dark Ritual
4x Plague Spitter
4x Chimeric Idol
4x Phyrexian Scuta
4x Thrashing Wumpus

That’s already a powerful and flexible creature base, so let’s think about the non-creature elements. The mana curve is already looking a bit steep, and the extreme vulnerability to cards such as Teferi’s Moat, Story Circle, Saproling Burst, and Parallax Wave is glaring. But there is an excellent solution:

Choose a color. Look at target player’s hand and choose a card of that color from it. That player discards that card.

Bingo! Control and a way to deal with color hosers and serious enchantment threats all at once, all for the paltry cost of two mana.

Next we have to think about creature control. The Wumpi and Spitters will handle any weenies that hit the table – but what about Two-Headed Dragons, Blinding Angels, Troublesome Spirits, and the like? Terror is a real possibility, but nothing is more frustrating than losing to Chimeric Idol beatdown when you are holding multiple Terrors in your hand (and yes, this has actually happened to me). Vicious Hunger is decent, combining well with the life loss from Scuta and Wumpi – but it’s a sorcery, and it doesn’t solve the fat creature problem. Vendetta will only kill big creatures in exchange for big life loss. Tsabo’s Decree is way too expensive. A rather ideal balance between flexibility, speed, and removal is:

Snuff Out
If you control a swamp, you may pay four life instead of paying Snuff Out’s mana cost.
Destroy target nonblack creature. That creature cannot be regenerated.

So what’s left? Well, there are 32 slots remaining, but we still haven’t dealt with the fundamental issue of mana. The number one source is going to come from what many players affectionately call the best land in Magic: Swamps. Since the cards selected so far are a little on the expensive side, and control is important, a high land count is necessary. Let’s start with 24. There are several colorless lands worth considering: Rishadan Port, Dust Bowl, and Rath’s Edge. Each additional one of these will make the wicked Ritual openings less likely, though. Rath’s Edge is quite expensive to activate… And wouldn’t that mana be better used as Wumpus fuel? Dust Bowl and Port are BRUTAL in certain matchups, but I’m already thinking about the deck and I have other ideas…So I say 24 Swamps. No special lands. Why? Because Karma is not in print, and there are no hosers that say "destroy all Swamps." Actually, there is a better reason:

Tsabo’s Web
When Tsabo’s Web comes into play, draw a card.
Lands with an activated ability that doesn’t produce mana don’t untap during their controllers’ untap steps.

This deck will take four copies.

No, not in the sideboard – in the main deck.

I know it sounds a bit kooky, but hear me out; the biggest reason is that they solve a variety of potential problems: The aforementioned Rishadan Port, Rath’s Edge, and even Kor Haven and High Market. It’s also a key play for turn 2, which black spells of late seem to be seriously lacking. Plus, Web is a cantrip. It replaces itself and thins the deck, adding an essential element of consistency to draws, and making it easier to get to the power cards. Finally, assuming that the most popular versions of Fires run four Ports and a Dust Bowl or two, Tsabo’s Web is a crushing impediment to their mana development. Plus, I have a deep personal hatred for Ports (maybe it’s because I don’t own any).

That leaves just four very important slots left… The creatures are fearsome, but I still don’t see a bona-fide fattie finisher. Scuta can be brutal, but his kicker can be real disappointing when Recoil, Parallax Wave, Counterspells, and Wash Out get in the way. Something that can block Blastoderm and live to tell the tale would also be nice…And why not some evasion as well. Evil Eye of Orms-By-Gore qualifies, but it would bring the rest of the creature offense staggering to a halt. Ascendant Evincar has amazing synergy with the Pestilence creatures, but he pumps opposing Nether Spirits and Pyre Zombies while hurting the Idols, which is not cool. Plus, drawing a 3/3 flier in the late game is not a large enough threat to turn things around. So allow me to present the biggest rogue choice of the deck:

Nightmare has power and toughness equal to the number of swamps you control.

This guy is SAVAGE. He works very well with the Swamp/Tsabo’s Web design, and gets insanely huge in the mid-late game. And he flies! I’ve also discovered that dropping him on turn 4 with the aid of a Ritual can be quite effective. I cut myself off at three copies, though, because it’s not cool to draw Nightmare in your opening hand.

Now there is only one slot left. Originally, I favored Soul Burn. Then I realized that, NOT contrary to popular belief, it is a bad card. But it’s great with excess Rituals, combines well with self-imposed life loss, and is just the sort of late-game finisher I was looking for. Nevertheless, I found that this card sits in my hand too often. The fact that you need to start with a base of three mana and add additional mana from then on for each point of damage/life gain makes it ludicrously expensive. Lately I’m leaning toward:

Destroy target nonblack creature. It can’t be regenerated.
Draw a card.

Beatdown is the path to victory, so clearing the way for the big guys is crucial. Its instant speed provides flexibility, and drawing a card is always good as well. Soul Burn is too expensive to remove big threats on a timely (pre-death) basis. Annihilate will drop a creature (unless it’s black…) and give you the chance to draw a threat of your own. Alone, it will never be a finisher, but it removes opposing creatures and gives you the chance to draw one of your own.

Those of you who have skipped all this analysis and explanation, here is the final decklist:

Turbo Black

4x Plague Spitter
4x Phyrexian Scuta
4x Thrashing Wumpus
3x Nightmare

4x Snuff Out
1x Annihilate
4x Addle

4x Tsabo’s Web
4x Chimeric Idol

24x Swamp
4x Dark Ritual

If U/W control is popular where you play T2, this deck is a risky choice. It can win based on the Swamp, Ritual, Threat opening, but Addle is the only answer (and it’s no Disenchant) to the likes of Light of Day, Story Circle, and Teferi’s Moat. Beyond that, though, this deck should give just about any other archetype a decent match, even before sideboarding.

I’ve already covered the rationale of individual card choices, so I’d just like to make a few final comments about the deck as a whole. There are nineteen creatures total. All of them are either undercosted (Scuta, Nightmare, Idol) or have strong controlling abilities (Spitter, Wumpus). But there are also twenty-one cards that contribute to board control. So, this deck is a unique combination of beatdown and control. Knowing when to emphasize which strategy is key to playing the deck well.

This deck also hearkens to the classic roots of black power (Necropotence, Juzam Djinn): life as a resource. Using your life points with Wumpi, Snuff, and Scuta can provide a key advantage in tempo and board control. But again, the key is to know when take the risk of digging into your life. Do not forget that all of these cards CAN be used without the cost of any life points.

Nevertheless, the main focus of this deck is pumping out early threats, taking board control, and beating your opponent into submission. The deck can Goldfish easily by turn 5 or 6. Turn 4 is also quite possible. If you get an INSANE draw with Rituals, it’s even possible to kill by turn 3, but that’s only if you can defy the laws of probability. So this is the deck. U/W control isn’t popular where I like to play T2, and I’m tired of Fires, so it’s what I’ll be playing. Give it a try and let me know what you think.


I originally intended this to just be a strategy/deck proposal column – but since writing that section, I’ve had a chance to give the deck a try in a competitive Type 2 tournament at Your Move Games (Providence location). How did it do? All I’ll reveal now is that the deck played better than I did. Read the ensuing tourney report if you’re interested in hearing the details.

For maindeck, I used the list above, card-for-card. Here is my sideboard:
4x Perish
4x Dread of Night
3x Cremate
2x Tsabo’s Decree
2x Unmask

Round 1: Rich playing heavy Red LD with Skizzik and Direct Damage for the kill

Game one I keep a two land/Tsabo’s Web hand, totally unaware that all of my lands are about to blow up very rapidly. I manage to actually get an Idol into play, which hits for some decent damage. Rich’s next bunch of turns look something like this: Stone Rain, Stone Rain, Pillage my Idol, Devastate, Implode. When I am left landless, he drops Skizzik and I die very quickly.

I pull all three Nightmares and swap in three Cremates (getting to six mana is too tough and the Cremates will speed up my land draws). Game two, I keep an opening hand of five Swamps, Idol, and something else. Playing first is another boon. Idol comes out early, and he finds it impossible to draw enough LD to prevent me from stabilizing at four mana. At some point Skizzik comes ripping at me, only to be Snuffed with the alternative casting cost. The Webs proved absolutely amazing in this game, locking down pesky Ports, Dust Bowls, and helping me draw extra land. A timely draw of Scuta seals Rich’s fate.

Game three is a real blowout. My hand is a bit land light, but it includes the following: two Swamp, Ritual, Scuta. Scuta its thing on turn 2. Rich fails to draw his low casting-cost land destruction spells and I add an Idol to the fray, followed by a Wumpus. It’s very ugly and ends very quickly.

Games: 2-1, Matches: 1-0

Round 2: Andrew playing W/G beats with Armageddon and Saproling Burst

We both get really slow starts. He doesn’t have any mana creatures and I lack Rituals. I Addle on turn 2 and get rid of a Parallax Wave, but see that he also has a second one in his hand. I drop an Idol, but the second Wave hits the table and sends it on vacation. He plays Blastoderm, but by then the Wave is low on counters and I pull out Thrashing Wumpus. Blinding Angel and Nemata, Grove Guardian both hit the table, but I have multiple Snuffs. At some point, I Addle away a third Parallax Wave. Finally, I drop a 7/7 Nightmare and wrap things up.

Due to the presence of Parallax Wave, I side out all the Scutas in favor of Perish. He has that quick start in game two. Forest, Elves, Birds, then Blastoderm. Fortunately, I have Perish. Next turn he plays another creature; Noble Panther, I think. I play an Idol, still gloating after Perish. He disenchants the Idol at the end of my turn and then the bombshell hits: Armageddon. To make things worse, I make a wicked misplay. After scooping up my lands and putting them in my graveyard I realized that I had Snuff in my hand. The Panther starts to chew on my face and he quickly rebuilds his mana. I can’t draw lands and he pumps out more threats. What an amazing comeback! Go, Andrew! I do a bit of additional siding, swapping two Nightmares for two Unmasks.

Game three gets totally out of control. An early Plague Spitter from me locks up his mana development. This is crucial, because the Birds in his hand become useless and he can’t seem to get to his second source of white mana. I Addle away a Parallax Wave and commence with Spitter beatings. An Idol joins the team and then things get really interesting; he puts an Armadillo Cloak on my Spitter. Since the Spitter deals 1 damage to itself and each player during my upkeep, the Cloak not only makes attacking useless, but now Andrew is getting a net gain of two life! For the first time ever I wish that Dredge was in my hand. He puts out a Noble Panther so now he can block the Idol AND he’s gaining an additional point of life each turn. During my turn, I Snuff the Panther, but I’m going to die to my own Spitter at this rate! I drop another Idol, and then he plays a second Cloak on the infamous Pestilent 2/2 guy. I can’t believe that this is happening! At this point I realize that Cloak is an absolute beating against my deck, especially on Spitter and Wumpus. During each of my turns, Andrew gains five life from the Spitter, and then my Idols hit him for six. Since the damage resolves first, then the life gain, I manage to kill him just barely when I am at two life. Under 5th Edition rules, I would have died before killing him. He shakes my hand and reveals his hand: Two Parallax Waves and a bunch of mana creatures. All he needed was that second white mana source and it would have been game over for me…

Games: 4-2, Matches: 2-0

Round 3: Kyle playing Turbo Chant with Millstone not Howling Mine
I win the die roll and play first, getting the draw I dream of and playing Scuta on turn two, thinking that I may Goldfish by turn 5. He says that he has "effects" in response and suddenly my hopes fade. FOIL! On my third turn I Addle for blue. He reveals his hand, showing just two blue cards, both Accumulated Knowledge. This is bad. Then Orim’s Chant makes its first appearance and I finally realize that this is a REALLY bad version of U/W control for me to deal with. He draws tons of cards and recycles the Chants with Recall. Then Millstone hits the table. An Enlightened Tutor fetches another. Wraths and Chants paralyze me. Idols die to Dismantling Blow. And suddenly… I have no cards left to draw.

My creature removal is useless, but I heard him talking about Blinding Angels before the match, so I leave in several Snuffs, fearing the loss of my attack phase. Turns out that the Angel talk was a red herring, and I fell for the sucker. All I have to board in are the Unmasks. I play first and get another great start: Ritual, Idol. The Idol deals some key damage before he can Dismantle it. Then I follow up with a Wumpus that squeezes by the counters. Another Idol comes out to play, and I’m feeling good. Then Story Circle hits the table and I’m in trouble again. But his white mana sources are limited, and having to leave them open all the time severely hampers his ability to play other spells. Wumpus Pestilence proves to be a wrecking ball, and a Dark Ritual provides the extra fuel I need to push through the final points of damage in a massive Wumpus suicide.

Getting smarter, I board out my other creature removal spells in favor of Cremate. Why I didn’t put in Cremate in the first place is a mystery to me. Well, maybe not. I think it happened because I’m bad it Magic. Kyle plays (keeping what I later find out is an uneventful five-land hand). I get some quick threats out: Idol, Spitter, Idol, Scuta. He has no answers, topdecking land after land. I think the only three spells he saw were Chant, Recall, and Absorb. Luck more than anything delivers this game to me, although it does help that my deck is ultra consistent (mono-color, cantrips, and plenty of mana).

Games: 6-3, Matches: 3-0

Round 4: Zvi-style Fires of Yavimaya with Two-Headed Dragons and Ports

I forget this kid’s name; sorry about that, whoever you are. I’ve never won a tournament before and I saw what he was playing earlier. My deck is strongly metagamed to beat Fires, but on the God draw Fires can just roll over anything. I offer to draw the match and play the games for fun anyway. He refuses – so here it goes. I played Fires early in the season and became bored of the deck when everyone started to clone it. This is the ultimate Rogue versus Play-what-wins battle.

I win the die roll (thank God!) and naturally choose to go first. We both Paris our first hand. I end up with something decent, but no amazing Ritual action. He chooses to go down to five cards, and I’m starting to feel like I’m in the zone – a little bit like the tournament report Jamie Wakefield wrote about when he qualified at the PTQ with Secret Force. I get an Idol down on turn three, but it doesn’t do much before a Saproling Burst (no Fires, fortunately) comes into play. I play a kickered Scuta and wait for fade counters to disappear. Just when his Burst is starting to get tired, he plays another one, followed by an Idol of his own. I get out a second Idol, but still can’t get any damage by all the Burst tokens. I’m getting a bit nervous; he’s top-decking like a champ and winning after the five-card Paris would kill the confidence I’ve finally built up. I Addle for green, but discover just Urza’s Rage and land. Now waiting for the Bursts to fade seems like a really bad situation to be in. He plays a Two-Headed Dragon, but Snuff comes to the rescue. With Bursts running low on fuel, I attack with Wumpus, Plague Spitter, and Scuta, leading into a massive Wumpus suicide to deal him fourteen points of damage for the win.

I board out two Scutae and two Snuffs in favor of four Perish. He gets the God draw that can kill by turn four and plays: Forest, Birds, Fires. On my second turn, I Addle for Green. His hand includes a Blastoderm AND a Burst. Wow – thank you, Addle! Bye, Bye Burst! That Addle took the game away from him. The Derm comes out on the next turn, but I have Perish. My Webs cramp his mana supply and I play Nightmare for the dramatic finish.

Games: 8-3, Matches: 4-0

That was it: My first Type 2 tournament win ever. I never playtested the deck; in fact, my only two games with it before the tournament were against my girlfriend the night before (winning the first and losing the second). Since U/W control not very popular at my local scene, Turbo Black was an excellent metagame choice (more of a coincidence than planning to be honest). While winning just one tournament does not prove that it’s a great deck, it certainly is a promising sign. Factor into that several bad plays I made, and my bad luck of running into the only Turbo-Chant deck there that night, and the deck looks even better. And that’s without any tuning, which is definitely needs. The concept is rock-solid, but my build is not optimal. I’m definitely going to give Unmask a try in the maindeck.

Scuta is a very good card, but Snuff and Addle stole the spotlight. In just four matches, Snuff destroyed Skizzik, Blinding Angel, Nemata, and multiple Two-Headed Dragons and Chimeric Idols. Snuff handled these threats like no other card in my deck could. Addle was the real monster, though. I always seemed to have one early and it changed the outcome of games fundamentally. It’s the card that makes this deck possible.

So after losing at about a dozen of these Friday Night Magic tournaments, partly due to my stubborn insistence on NOT playing Fires and partly due to my playing skills (which are slowly improving), this rogue deck really paid off.

Hope you enjoyed reading,

Rick Rust
(Team Triumvirate)