I’ll probably keep the preamble short, since this article is kind of late as it is. Preparing for the PTQ, I’d settled into mono-black, as we’d gotten a version that we felt could handle U/G and wasn’t that bad against G/W either. I’d started with the strangler-heavy "Snarf Black" and morphed it into this version, called "Desperado." Originally it was "Disco Strangler," but when I took the stranglers out, I needed a new Eagles song to use.
3 Cabal Coffers
4 Rancid Earth
4 Tainted Pact
3 Innocent Blood
4 Chainer’s Edict
4 Nantuko Shade
2 Shambling Swarm
3 Diabolic Tutor
2 Skeletal Scrying
2 Mind Sludge
2 Haunting Echoes
For further analysis of the deck, skip ahead to the end of the article.
Round 1: Gabriel Carlton-Ba (U/G)
I’m sure his last name isn’t "Ba," but that’s as far as his name went on the sheet before being truncated, and I forgot to ask for the rest of it. Or maybe his name is "Ba." I’ve seen Gabriel before; he’s a fairly good player from the Portland area, best noted (to me at least) for wearing this headband with horns in it. Don’t ask me why. Ask him. Maybe he’s an Olle Rade fan.
As the case may be, he’s running this new U/G hybrid that’s not WonderWurm, not Quiet Roar, really, or really threshold-based. It is fast, though, with the Rootwallas and all. It’s basically Quiet Roar without the Speculations, or something like that.
Game 1, Gabe gets off to a nice start, pitching two Roars to a Careful Study. I, fortunately, have a timely Rancid Earth to set him back a turn, and he’s a little mana shy. I drop a Shade for a few beats, but Gabriel manages to get all four Roars into his graveyard (and no Quiet Spec, either). Amazingly, the Wurms end up chump blocking the Shade for several turns while he manages to build up a small army. By the time I get to eight swamps, I need to clear the board and it’s two, four, six, eight, what do we cast? Mutilate!
This is a tricky matchup, and I may have made a tactical error at one point. Holding a Guiltfeeder and Chainer’s Edict, with my opponent controlling an Aquamoeba and two cards in hand, I cast the Guiltfeeder, sucking out the Solitary Confinement, then cast the Edict. I may have needed to do it the other way around, as it would end up (maybe) costing me the game. I’m not sure.
However, I have the game firmly in hand, quadruple-Roar tokens and all, and am in position to kill rapidly. Then he casts, in his own words, "Best Breakthough ever" for two, pitching two Rootwallas off the top, making for good chump blockers. That saves him for a turn from my super Shade. He’s at two, with a Roar token and one Rootwalla on the board, compared to my Shade with an Edict in the graveyard and no cards in hand. I’m at eleven, and I can take a hit from his army or else force him to chump.
So what does he draw to save him? Centaur Garden. About the only card that would save him.
Game two starts much the same for Gabe, pitching two Wurm tokens to a Careful Study. I don’t do badly, though, getting a turn 5 Echoes off, removing said Wurms and Circular Logics from the game. Unfortunately, though, the Rootwallas I wasn’t expecting anyone to play start nibbling away at my life total. I have a chance to pull it out, however, with eight mana, topdecking Diabolic Tutor for the Mutilate… But he has the Envelop, the last card in his hand.
Death by topdecks twice in a row. Such is life.
Round 2: Ross Freeman (U/G)
Pretty much the same matchup as before, but with minor tweaks. Ross gets the ever-annoying two-Wurms-in-the-graveyard start with Careful Study, but I slow him down with a turn 3 Rancid Earth. His next play, Aquamoeba, gets an Innocent Blood. Deep Analysis, however, which is what makes this U/G deck really run, nets him a lot of cards… And I’m learning that the lack of early pressure I’m putting on allows him to pay the flashback cost with impunity.
However, I’ve got a hand filled with hate, drawing all my Innocent Bloods and all four Chainer’s Edicts within the first seven draws. Suffice it to say, nothing Ross plays stays on the board very long, despite him casting Circular Logic three times.
Game two isn’t that great. I mulligan into a one-land, three Tainted Pact hand, and luck into a topdecked swamp and start Pacting through my library. It doesn’t do me much good this time, as I draw rather useless Shambling Swarms instead of removal spells. Stupefying Touch, I discover, is damn good tech against Nantuko Shades.
Game three is tight. I have Ross on the ropes late, despite his plethora of counters, down to four life, when he Upheavals (which is some bad for control black). I like my hand, though, of three Swamps, an Innocent Blood, Shade, Stalker and Mutilate. Ross plays an island, Rootwallas, and says go. Now, for me, the correct play should have been to simply play a swamp and say go, but I walk right into the Envelop. It probably wouldn’t have mattered, as he had two in hand, and the second one counters my last-ditch Mutilate.
Oh and two. So much for my Pro Tour dreams this day, and all that playtesting. We’d kind of discarded U/G after seeing how well our mono-black decks were doing, looks like we may have been mistaken.
Nonetheless, I shall soldier on to try and salvage some DCI points (of course, whenever I do this, disaster strikes, but I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment)
Game one, Eric achieves instant threshold with two straight Mental Notes, but my hand of Innocent Blood and Chainer’s Edict keeps me safe for a while. He taps out on turn 4, allowing me to drop a turn 5 Guiltfeeder, which is some good against U/G. How many cards in your graveyard? Nineteen? Yep, game one to me.
Game three is much better. He plays creatures, I have removal to eliminate them, and he’s kind enough to tap out on turn 5 to let me cast Haunting Echoes, clearing out his graveyard and library of most of his creatures. From there, Guiltfeeder finishes the job.
Round 4: Dusty Sargent (mono-red)
I’d seen a version of this rather rogue deck down in Bend. It can give mono-black problems, and it worries me a bit, having not tested against it.
Game one, the first damage I take is from a Browbeat – not that scary – and I follow with a Shambling Swarm. That gets burned out, though, and a Magnivore slaps me around for seven. Now I’m getting worried. However, I am able to get Mind Sludge off on turn six, emptying his hand, then Echo everything out of his library except for eight spells. A Shade ends up finishing Dusty off a few turns later.
Game two is… Well, odd. Dusty gets part of his combo, cast Firecat Blitz for zero on turn 2, then pays the flashback, combined with Rites of Initiation, to hit me for twelve damage. This, however, leaves him with no cards in his hand and no permanents in play.
Two and two is much better. Play on, shall I?
Round 5: James Lawrence (mono-black)
Finally – the mirror match.
I get the feeling that neither of us have a great hand, but he stalls on two swamps and a Coffers – very bad in this matchup, but lucky for James, I have no Rancid Earths. What I do have is a hand with both Mind Sludge, Diabolic Tutor, and Haunting Echoes in it. However, James topdecks a few swamps and gets off a Sludge first – but only for four. I keep my Tutor, Sludge and Echoes, then proceed to Tutor for a fifth swamp, Sludge James’ hand away, and Echoes away a good chunk of his deck. I get a Shade and Swarm into play and keep James’ light on mana with three consecutive Rancid Earths for the win.
Second game is much the same. My mirror tech comes into play with Rancid Earths and Braids keeping James low on mana and getting off a dreamy Sludge/Echoes combo that takes every creature out of his deck save for a Faceless Butcher.
Round 6: Rob Gilpatrick (G/W)
I think his name was Rob. If I’m wrong, he can email and correct me. Otherwise, he shall henceforth be known as Rob and live with it.
Not the best matchup in the world for me, but it should be winnable. I hope. It looks pretty much like Jarrod Bright’s version of G/W Madness.
Game 1, Rob starts out with Brushhoppers on turn three and four (which, of course, are hard to deal with). I’m still able to force him to pitch his hand kill the Brushhoppers and get off a decent Haunting Echoes, getting rid of things like Rootwallas, Glory and the Brushhoppers – at one life, and have having had to sacrifice to Shades as chump blockers. From there it’s a topdecking war. I keep drawing kill spells for each creature he draws. Unfortunately, I run out of kill before he runs out of critters. If I could have drawn anything creature-wise, I would have gotten that game. The last three cards had two Shades – alas, woe is me.
Game two is horrible. I lose to two Tireless Tribes I can’t kill. How sad is that? Bloods, Edicts, Mutilate, they just keep on pecking away until I’m dead. I topdeck Mutilate at one life, but he pitches two cards to a Tribe to keep it alive.
Round 7: Aaron Fitzgerald (mono-black)
Easiest points I’ll get all day. Aaron already left for the day and forgot to check off the drop box.
At this point, Jim, our ride, has wrapped up his day at 4-2-1 (best of the Gambit lot) and decided to call it a day. By and large, we barely finished above .500 for the day.
So what lessons did I take from this drubbing? For one, we made the wrong choice of decks. Control Black is in trouble against this revamped version of U/G, and G/W isn’t much fun either. The deck takes too long to ramp up to its powerful sweepers and is vulnerable to early fast damage. Not to mention late-game spells like Upheaval really hurt.
From my observations in Portland, U/G Non-Spec Quiet Roar seems to be the way to go. I also saw the revival of U/B Zombie/Upheaval as well, and some G/W, but the top tables were mostly mirror matches between U/G decks. Mono-black up at the top a little bit, mostly because there was so much of it.
Looking at my decklist, I can suggest the following improvements: First off, the Shambling Swarms suck. I don’t know why I put them in there. They, and the Guiltfeeder, should be replaced with the far scarier Laquatus’s Champion.
Tainted Pact absolutely belongs in the deck. I was never unhappy to see this card, especially in my opening hand, and it lets me get away with the lower land count. Rancid Earth needs to remain in the main deck as well.
But the deck also needs some kind of early disruption to be able to force through key spells. I wondered about Mesmeric Fiend vs. Cabal Therapy, when I thought, hey – why not use both? Cabal Therapy’s ability to be used twice can be very useful. Accordingly, this means we’re taking out some of the global kill. The Innocent Bloods are gone now, as is one Mutilate. This gives you a way to combat early counters and creature rush. The fact that this deck can’t put much early pressure on U/G means that it can cast Deep Analysis with a fair amount of impunity – believe it or not, that card is more important than Roar of the Wurm in U/G. Take out Deep Analysis, the deck doesn’t work.
For the sideboard, the Butchers and Stalkers proved, for the most part, ineffective. The deck needs some kind of instant-speed removal to be able to deal with creatures and get around Envelop.
That being noted, this is my more current build, which I feel is much stronger.
3 Cabal Coffers
3 Cabal Therapy
4 Mesmeric Fiend
4 Nantuko Shade
3 Laquatus’s Champion
4 Tainted Pact
3 Diabolic Tutor
1 Skeletal Scrying
1 Mind Sludge
1 Haunting Echoes
4 Chainer’s Edict
4 Rancid Earth
Weird, huh? With Envelop negating much of your kill, the Ghastly Demises are a must in the sideboard now. I can’t believe I chose not to run them. For the same reason, Execute is included for W/G – and, hey, it’s a cantrip to boot. Coffin Purge becomes the bulk of your graveyard removal as the removal of the extra Sludge and Echoes make the deck a little more toolbox-like.
I’m not sure if this decklist is any good. The deck needs faster graveyard removal to deal with the likes of Glory, Wonder, Roar of the Wurm and Deep Analysis. I’m starting to think Jay Schneider’s Tomb Raider, which is built to deplete graveyards, might be the way for mono-black to move to remain viable in this environment.
‘Cause it won’t win much they way I originally built it.