Almost There: Mono-Black Control

Posted in How to Build on June 15, 2018

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.

Back when Torment was released in 2002, Mono-Black Control was one of my favorite archetypes. Since then, a lot of people have tried to revive it, but they have been mostly unsuccessful because without cards like Nantuko Shade, Mind Sludge, Cabal Coffers, and Mutilate, there was never a reason to be mono-black as opposed to black and another color. With the printing of Dread Shade and Cabal Stronghold, it may finally be the time for mono-black to make a comeback. This is the deck Hall of Fame pro Willy Edel played to a 7-3 record in the Standard rounds at Pro Tour Dominaria:

Willy Edel's Mono-Black Control

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Ironically enough, there are no copies of Cabal Stronghold in Willy's deck—though I imagine it started with them in earlier versions. Once you look at what cards are in the deck, however, it makes perfect sense. There aren't a lot of mana sinks (only Walking Ballista), so using Cabal Stronghold to jump from five to seven mana doesn't do much for you, and the requirement of using only basic Swamps is pretty steep because the black utility lands are amazing. Ifnir Deadlands is a Standard staple that lets you exchange a land for a removal spell, and Memorial to Folly rebuys any of the many creatures that have spell-like abilities, such as Gonti, Lord of Luxury; Walking Ballista; or Noxious Gearhulk. The other Deserts aren't really necessary, but they're mostly free and can be sacrificed for Ifnir Deadlands as well—plus, they can be very handy if you get paired against God-Pharaoh's Gift or The Scarab God, on top of randomly exiling Earthshaker Khenras and Scrapheap Scroungers. Because the utility lands are so powerful, this deck can play 26 lands without risk of flooding out. I believe there can be a version of mono-black that uses Cabal Stronghold in combination with Karn, Scion of Urza to make all its land drops, and then uses those to fuel big Walking Ballistas and Josu Vess, Lich Knight, but that's a very different build.

The thing I like about this deck is that a lot of the creatures play double duty. Gonti is an excellent blocker that also steals a card from your opponent, which makes it great versus control. Gifted Aetherborn trades with any green creature while helping you stay alive versus red. Noxious Gearhulk kills something and gains life. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner draws cards. Knight of Malice blocks Scrapheap Scrounger every turn and also threatens Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Dread Shade brick-walls everything and then kills them in three turns. Having so many utility creatures is great when you have the ability to rebuy them through Liliana, Death's Majesty and Memorial to Folly, and it's not uncommon to cast three or four Gontis in a game, for example.

Right now, this deck is tuned to beat control more than it is tuned to beat red, and I think we have to change this. By this point, it's pretty clear that mono-red and black-red are the decks to beat, which means we can't afford having a card like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner in the main deck since it just incidentally dies to Goblin Chainwhirler.

To replace them, I think we should just play more removal and cheap creatures. The deck is already maxing on Vraska's Contempts and Fatal Pushes, but it only plays one Cast Down right now. Cast Down is also very good against mono-green (it kills anything you need to kill except Ghalta, Primal Hunger) as well as Black-Green Constrictor. You can also add an extra Knight of Malice, which is a much better blocker versus red as well as being a big nuisance against the white-blue decks. If you resolve one against white-blue (which isn't hard, since it costs only two mana), they can't kill it with Seal Away or Cast Out and they can't stop it with Gideon of the Trials or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which means they're basically left with Settle the Wreckage, Fumigate, or Torrential Gearhulk. It's not going to kill them single-handedly, but it makes sure their planeswalkers won't dominate the game.

I'd also add a couple of The Eldest Reborn in the sideboard, which is extremely powerful against white-blue since it kills a planeswalker and then gives you that planeswalker two turns later, while also being insurance against Lyra Dawnbringer.

This is the list I'd play:

PV's Mono-Black Control

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