Almost There: Mono-Black Aggro

Posted in How to Build on December 8, 2017

By Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Paulo has been playing Magic since he was eight years old. At fifteen, he ventured outside of Brazil for his first international tournament, and he's been globetrotting as a professional player ever since.

Last week, I played in the World Magic Cup as part of team Brazil. Since the format was Team Unified Standard, we had to find three decks that didn't share any cards, which led to exploring certain archetypes that we hadn't focused on previously—in this case, Mono-Black Aggro, a deck that I had previously dismissed as simply a "worse mono-red." After playing more with it, I realized that this was not the case; while Ramunap Red was in fact the more powerful of the two decks, Mono-Black Aggro was a lot more explosive and had good matchups in spots where Ramunap Red struggled.

Mono-Black Aggro is a deck that has showed up in a lot of tournaments, but it has never won. This is the list Magic Online user Kileonhart recently took to 5-0 in a League:

Kileonhart's Mono-Black Aggro

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The first thing I think we should establish is why you should play Mono-Black Aggro instead of the other aggro options in the format. So, why play Mono-Black Aggro instead of Ramunap Red?

Mono-Black's biggest advantage over Ramunap Red is that the one-drops are actually good. Red plays eight, but only four that you really want (Bomat Courier), and black can play up to twelve good ones, which is a big difference. On top of that, black can play up to eight discard spells in the sideboard, which means it can interact in ways that red can't, such as getting rid of a Settle the Wreckage before attacking.

Of course, red has its advantages as well; its cards are generally more powerful, so it's better at mitigating flooding, and it has access to Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Rampaging Ferocidon. Overall, red is a more consistent deck, but black is more explosive. I think black has the slight edge against control and other aggro decks, whereas red has the edge against energy decks, so which one to play depends on the metagame you expect.

Why Play Mono-Black Instead of Mardu?

I think mono-black and Mardu are quite similar, except that Mardu is a bit more powerful whereas mono-black has much better mana. Given that mana is the worst part of the Mardu deck, I'm happy giving up a little bit of power to not have to worry about it. I think mono-black is basically a better Mardu.

Why Play Mono-Black Instead of Black-Red?

Black-Red Aggro is closer, but in the end the mana is still too bad for me. I think you lose more games because your lands enter the battlefield tapped than you win because you have Hazoret the Fervent, and for this reason I prefer straight mono-black.

Then, we have individual card choices. For a monocolored aggro deck, there's a surprising amount of diversity in the lists. Here are the biggest points of contention:

The One-Drops

Kileonhart is playing twelve black one-drops, but there are players who like only eight, eschewing Vicious Conquistador. While Conquistador is undeniably the worst of the three, I think that, if your biggest advantage over other aggro decks is that you have one-drops that hit for 2, you should try to maximize that. Your best draws involve three one-drops on turn two, and, if you're going to play only eight, I'd rather just play Ramunap Red—so it's the full twelve for me.

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner

Siphoner is a good card if you play Aether Hub, but I think the cost of playing Aether Hub in this deck is very real. You only have 20 lands, and most of your spells do not have colorless costs in them, so drawing an Aether Hub over a Swamp can really hurt you, and drawing two is almost game over. Since I don't want to play Hub, I think Siphoner is weaker than the other options.

The Vehicles

Vehicles are very important for this deck, since they are your source of reach—they either fly over the board or let you tap Night Market Lookout over and over (unlike Vicious Conquistador, it doesn't need to be attacking). As such, I want to play more Vehicles than Kileonhart is playing; I like at least six.

As far as which six Vehicles to play, I like the three-three split. Heart of Kiran is the more powerful card, but mono-black isn't as good at crewing it as the Mardu decks, since most of your creatures have 1 or 2 power, so Aethersphere Harvester is actually the better one in this deck. It does cost three, however, so I like splitting the numbers for curve considerations.

The Three-Drops

Your options for three-drops, on top of Aethersphere Harvester, are Ruin Raider and Ammit Eternal. The list we are analyzing plays both, but I don't think you can support this many three-mana creatures. I think Ruin Raider is good, but Ammit Eternal is excellent—it just hits for so much damage, and its afflict 3 ability means it's hard to contain, since you can't just chump it with Whirler Virtuoso tokens or Drake Haven tokens.

In my list, I like having four Ammit Eternals in the main deck and some Ruin Raiders in the sideboard against the slower decks; when you board in a lot of discard spells, you want the card drawing to complement it, otherwise you're just going to put both players in a topdeck war that you're not going to win.

This is the Mono-Black Aggro list we almost played at the World Magic Cup. If you're an aggro player but you're tired of Ramunap Red, or if your metagame is particularly control-heavy, you should give it a try:

PVDDR's Mono-Black Aggro

Download Arena Decklist

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