When I started to improve at Magic, I felt myself identifying more and more with the color blue. The sense of agency and thrill of coming back from behind were intoxicating. Despite that, my longing to feel smart and patient for 50-minute games eventually waned.
As time went on, I started to gravitate toward black decks. There’s probably no archetype in the history of the game that draws me in more than a black midrange deck, even if they typically end up being some of the worst and underperforming decks in their respective formats. Still, some of my biggest successes have come from playing black midrange decks, like Zombies and Mardu Pyromancer, so they have their time and place.
Last season, Bryan crushed Week 1 of Throne of Eldraine Standard with Esper Dance, which utilized Doom Foretold. With Theros Beyond Death, we can finally cut those awful blue cards and lean into the mediocrity that is black midrange. I’ve been loving every minute of it.
This deck will often be treading water, playing from behind while hoping to stabilize. At that point, your more powerful cards will take over and you’ll win with Basilica Bell-Haunts, various tokens, and Oath of Kaya damage.
Doom Foretold is the linchpin of the deck and solves many problems. Cards like Golden Egg, Oath of Kaya, and Treacherous Blessing are included to keep Doom Foretold around as long as possible. Everyone else is playing powerful permanents while we have plenty of nonsense to sacrifice, which allows you to make incredible resource trades with your opponent.
Much like Thought Erasure, I initially undervalued Agonizing Remorse. Having to pay two mana for a discard spell is a large ask because it doesn’t affect the battlefield. Sometimes you can’t afford that much of a tempo loss but black decks typically want something proactive to do on Turn 2 and a discard spell with some upside fits.
Elspeth Conquers Death is another card I undervalued and it’s absolutely great against nearly every deck in the format. The second chapter is usually minor and the third is also minor, at least in this deck. I’ve tried various creatures like Murderous Rider but it’s a rarity that you get to return something anyway. If there were a cheap creature that gave some value, could be sacrificed to Doom Foretold, and then brought back, I’d be happy.
Maybe Alseid of Life’s Bounty is good enough to play in small numbers. Protecting an enchantment in the mid-game can be huge, especially in sideboard games when opponents have more removal. Kaya, Orzhov Ursurper is good enough to make the maindeck but only shines in a few select matchups. Unless we want to play Yarok’s Fenlurker, I don’t see my maindeck having many creatures anytime soon. Basilica Bell-Haunt will have to do.
I’ve played 25 lands at times, even with four copies of The Birth of Meletis. You want to hit each land drop and being able to empty your hand is beneficial for Castle Locthwain. I’ve found that 24 is acceptable because of Birth, Golden Egg, and Treacherous Blessing helping you to hit your land drops. Even though you want to make your land drops, you don’t want to flood with Castle Locthwain and you need Treacherous Blessing to deliver some defensive tools.
I’ve considered and tried various sideboard plans involving bringing in various threats like Aphemia, the Cacophony; Hero of Precinct One; or Archon of Sun’s Grace. Those plans have been fine but don’t dramatically alter your matchups, nor do they help in the more difficult matchups. Kaya’s Wrath is integral in the majority of matchups and those creatures don’t seem worth it at the moment.
Devout Decree and Noxious Grasp are typically great but potentially replaceable, especially as the metagame solidifies. Nissa, Who Shakes the World is always going to be an issue, so I’ll likely have Noxious Grasp through each iteration of the deck, but Devout Decree could get the ax for something with more utility.
Revoke Existence and Heliod’s Intervention are both excellent, although there aren’t many decks where Heliod’s Intervention will have multiple juicy targets. Instead, I like a split because sometimes you just want to one-for-one their God or Witch’s Oven with Revoke Existence rather than trying to get maximum value. Since Despark and Doom Foretold cover many of the bases that Revoke Existence does, we can afford to play fewer copies than we would otherwise want to.
Ethereal Absolution is an absolute game-breaker in some matchups but might be a poor sideboard card because of how often your opponents will be bringing in enchantment removal. You’re obviously going to give them some good targets for those things, so Ethereal Absolution might stick around when you eventually play it, but it doesn’t lock up the game every single time.
Our best answer to Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven is Kaya, Orzhov Usurper. Kunoros, Hound of Athreos is also excellent but doesn’t play well with Kaya’s Wrath.
You can see the strength of some of the cards in the archetype by seeing how rarely I sideboard them out against some of the biggest decks. Even Kaya’s Wrath stays in against Azorius Control! Similarly, Elspeth Conquers Death is fairly incredible against everyone.
VS Azorius Control
This matchup is very fun, although typically a grindfest. For the most part, Orzhov has the advantage despite the lack of countermagic. Your card advantage, discard, threats, and removal are stronger than anything they can muster. That said, there are some games where you don’t draw Castle Locthwain and they’re able to stop your card advantage with their counterspells. There are also the games where Dream Trawler attacks and those aren’t particularly winnable.
One of the most important parts of the matchup is punishing their Banishing Lights. After sideboarding, they’ll have Disenchant effects like Revoke Existence and Heliod’s Intervention, which can deal with your threats directly. Ideally, you have something that provides card advantage and isn’t an artifact or enchantment, which will force them to remove it with Banishing Light, which you can easily remove.
Both Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage and Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis are solid options, but I prefer Davriel since it tends to put more pressure on their gameplan overall. The recurring threat of Elspeth is obviously strong but can be mitigated easier.
VS Jund Sacrifice
As you can probably guess, this will be another long matchup, so settle in. There are some games where either player can get far ahead early but most of the time you’ll be trading resources until someone sticks a threat that goes unanswered. Mayhem Devil can clock you early but most of the time you’ll want to focus on getting as much value from your cards as possible.
VS Jeskai Fires
Kill Fires of Invention if you can but otherwise focus on removing their threats. If they can’t get any traction, they won’t have much going on and will eventually flood out. Overall, you have all the answers.
VS Mono-Black Devotion
How you sideboard depends on their specific decklist. If they have Witch’s Oven and Cauldron Familiar, you’ll want to bring in Kaya, Orzhov Usurper. If they have Bolas’s Citadel and other targets like Tymaret Chosen from Death; Witch’s Oven; and Nightmare Shepherd, you’ll want the Revoke Existence as well. Despark tends to be good against the versions with Nightmare Shepherd and Bolas’s Citadel as well.
These matchups are scary because your life total is always in danger from Gray Merchant of Asphodel and they have plenty of card advantage. You don’t quite have the luxury of dragging the game out as long as possible because you don’t really have the ability to completely lock up the game.
VS Simic Ramp
Depending on their configuration, this can be a nightmare. Much like with Gray Merchant, you will almost always be at the mercy of a Finale of Devastation for ten. If their late-game is Thassa, Deep-Dweller and Agent of Treachery, that’s also a problem, albeit a far more manageable one. Should they simply be relying on Hydroid Krasis as their end-game, you’ll defeat them soundly.
VS Esper Hero
This matchup tends to play out similarly to Azorius Control except Esper Hero actually has a reasonable clock and more disruption. In some ways, the matchup is more difficult but they also tend to have fewer sources of card advantage, which can make things easier.
VS Mono-White Aggro
Kaya’s Wrath is obviously very important here but Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Gideon Blackblade can be huge problems, in addition to whatever other planeswalkers they might have. They will continually try to pressure you while not overextending, so save your spot removal for the threats that really matter. Be wary of Disenchants in sideboard games.
VS Temur Elementals
Any deck trying to abuse Thassa is potentially terrifying but they are mostly set up to beat creature decks, not ones with Kaya’s Wrath. In theory, they could sideboard into Agent of Treachery, card drawing, and counterspells but the necessity for that doesn’t really exist at the moment.
The Other Option
If slowing strangling your opponent isn’t as appealing to you as actually winning this game, this is a fine alternative.
The end-game of Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Bolas’s Citadel is well-known at this point. Most black devotion decks are leaning on that interaction but they typically rely on creatures as well, which isn’t entirely necessary. Instead, you can build a more controlling black deck with the combo-ish finish, which tends to give you an advantage in the mirror matches.
I’m undecided on which version is ultimately stronger. Being proactive is usually a stronger gameplan overall but you certainly lose equity by not maximizing cards like Doom Foretold and Treacherous Blessing. Your end-game tends to be strong because of Bolas’s Citadel but I worry about the earlier turns.
No matter which version of Doom Foretold you decide to sleeve up, enjoy it! It’s a powerful, unique archetype that does very well against the best decks in Theros Beyond Death Standard.