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By: Blackdeckwins, Anthony Davis
Apr 11 2016 12:00pm
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Last week, I took a look at the impact recent Standard sets have had on the Pauper format. This week, I am moving back to building and tweaking decks, but instead of tweaking and working on the latest aggressive decks, I am going to take a look at something different. Today, we’re going to take a look at Mono-Black Control, and how to make it better.

Thursday, as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, this tweet by Alex Ullman caught my eye:
 
Intrigued, I browsed through the replies and conversations inspired by it, seeing mentions of increasing the number of Font of Returns and implementing Cadaver Imp over some number of Phyrexian Rager. After pitching in a few thoughts and getting some feedback, I decided to tackle the task of building a more devoted Mono-Black Devotion deck.
 

More Devoted to Black

For this version of the deck, the focus is more on establishing a large board presence and playing giant Gray Merchant of Asphodels to fireball out the opponent. If the first Gray Merchant does not handle the job, the second one should, even if it is just the first one cast again. Starting with a base Mono-Black Devotion deck, we will trim some removal and non-devotion-focused cards to implement other cards that contribute to devotion to Black. Here is the base we will start from:
 
Mono-Black Control
5-0 Pauper League, wontspendmoney, April 4, 2016
Creatures
4 Cuombajj Witches
4 Chittering Rats
1 Crypt Rats
4 Phyrexian Rager
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
2 Gurmag Angler
19 cards

Other Spells
3 Disfigure
1 Unearth
4 Chainer's Edict
4 Sign in Blood
1 Victim of Night
2 Oubliette
1 Pestilence
2 Tendrils of Corruption
18 cards
Lands
4 Barren Moor
1 Haunted Fengraf
18 Swamp
23 cards

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

 

First, we’ll trim all but the best removal spells. Goodbye to Disfigure and Tendrils of Corruption, and we will trim Sign in Blood, as well. Gurmag Angler is a good win condition, but to test a heavier devotion slant, something has to give. We will also cut the single Crypt Rats and Pestilence, and move down to two copies of Phyrexian Rager. This gives us plenty of space to add in cards to test.
 
Now that we have some open slots, we can fill them. Cadaver Imp is a card I want to test in the three-mana slot, so we will start with three of them. The two-mana slot is normally vacant, so that will be one of the key slots to fill. Two creatures stand out: Faceless Butcher and Liliana’s Shade. Faceless Butcher is a creature with two Black mana symbols and works as a pseudo-removal spell. Liliana’s Shade finds your fifth Swamp, guaranteeing that Gray Merchant is online for the very next turn, and also offers a great late-game mana sink. The only way to see which fits better is to try both, so two copies of each will start in the list.
 
With so many two- and three-mana creatures, Unearth seems like a great card for this deck, so we can move up to three of those. I am also interested in the other Black devotion common, Marshmist Titan, and would like to give it a shot. A 4/5 blocks everything that is not a Fangren Marauder or Gurmag Angler, and could be easily accelerated out with a normal draw. It may be more of a win-more card, but in a deck built around playing lots of creatures, the plan itself is almost win-more. Adding in another Victim of Night and two Mortuary Mire, with a little sideboard work, brings us to this deck:
 

 

With this build put together on Magic Online, I headed into the practice room…and was promptly sent back from whence I came. In ten-or-so games, I managed to win exactly zero games against popular decks in the field. Thankfully, the losses were able to point out holes in this build, cards to add, and most importantly, cards to cut.
 

Devotion Through More Than Words

First, the four-drop question: which option is better, Faceless Butcher or Liliana's Shade? The correct answer is Liliana’s Shade. Pauper is a format filled with cheap removal such as Lightning Bolt, Galvanic Blast, Flame Slash, Journey to Nowhere, Victim of Night, and even bounce spells like Snap and Vapor Snag. It also contains creatures with valuable enter-the-battlefield abilities, such as Kor Skyfisher, Mulldrifter, Chittering Rats, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Spellstutter Sprite. There are also creatures with hexproof in Stompy and Green/White Hexproof, and spells that grant hexproof or protection in Stompy and Delver Fiend. Did I mention the trigger is not optional, and does not specify creatures your opponent controls? This experiment has proven to me that Faceless Butcher is not a turn-four play in a Mono-Black deck. Perhaps in a deck that can leave some mana open to protect it, the card could be playable, but that is a deck for another day.
 
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Liliana’s Shade was quite good every time I played it. Getting the Swamp was important nearly every time, and it was occasionally a huge lethal attacker. It also adds two Black mana symbols, which is always welcome. Speaking of good creatures with two Black mana symbols, Cadaver Imp proved to be fantastic. Chittering Rats is already a beating to go up against, and rebuying it when an opponent kills it through Cadaver Imp is devastating. Cadaver Imp is also great at just rebuying other Cadaver Imps to suddenly flood the board or chump block to infinity. And of course, it can rebuy Gray Merchant of Asphodel for when you are ready to end the game.
 
There were a few other duds in the deck, unfortunately. Fifteen targets for Unearth is not quite enough to play three of them, especially in an exile-heavy format. Also, as I predicted, Marshmist Titan was either bad or irrelevant in every game. The abundance of flyers in the Blue decks of the format make it a laughable blocker while Green decks such as Stompy and Hexproof get too big for a 4/5 to matter. Every other deck is packed with removal and knows to keep you off of your devotion enablers to make Gray Merchant smaller. Put those factors together, and Marshmist Titan becomes a pretty bad card. I also felt like I was land-heavy in nearly every game that went late, even with three Barren Moors.
 
As I went to tweak the deck again, I found myself drawn back to the original problem that was nagging at me: this deck needs more two-drop permanents. I skimmed the list of two-drop Common creatures for the hundredth time, finding a few options but quickly dismissing them. There was just no good accomplice for Cuombajj Witches. So, taking a page from Oubliette’s book, I decided to try for the other colored permanent type: enchantments.
 
One Gatherer search later, I was no more satisfied than when I examined the creature options. Most of the cards were Aura-based removal spells, which are better at killing creatures than sticking around. Evil Presence and its kind held my attention for a moment, before I remembered that many decks were splashing for Black removal spells, and they don’t replace themselves like Spreading Seas. So, I fell back on a card that was already in the sideboard of the deck: Font of Return. As a two-mana enchantment, it added a difficult-to-remove pip to my devotion early, and represents a devastating late-game plan. I decide to play three copies and went back up to the full four copies of Sign in Blood, giving me eleven two-mana plays, not counting removal spells. That averages out to at least one per hand, which felt like a respectable number to me.
 
Moving up to the three-mana slot, I found myself missing Phyrexian Rager as a reliable three-mana play. However, I also found myself loving Cadaver Imp, so I compromised, adding one of each to the deck, totaling eleven creatures at the three-mana slot. That is a fairly large number, and Cadaver Imp could easily be trimmed back, but after casting the same Chittering Rats five times in one game, I am loath to trim any.
 
Finally, for the large creatures, the full playset of Liliana’s Shade replace the two Faceless Butchers and Marshmist Titan gets the axe. To make room for the other changes in the early slots, we’ll also cut Unearth and two lands. A few minor Sideboard tweaks, and we have this new list:
 
Mono-Black Devotion 2.0
4-1 in Pauper League by Anthony Davis
Creatures
4 Cuombajj Witches
3 Phyrexian Rager
4 Cadaver Imp
4 Chittering Rats
4 Liliana's Shade
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
23 cards

Other Spells
4 Chainer's Edict
3 Font of Return
4 Sign in Blood
2 Victim of Night
2 Oubliette
15 cards
Lands
3 Barren Moor
1 Bojuka Bog
18 Swamp
22 cards

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

 

A few more games in the practice room, and I felt confident enough to take the deck through a league, which I finished 4-1, losing the last match to flooding on Fonts and not getting enough creatures into the graveyard to do anything with them. Three Font of Returns in the main deck felt correct, but the fourth one in the sideboard was excessive.
 
Throughout the league, I beat Elves, Burn, and Mono-Black Control twice, and fell in a game against Tron, although that matchup feels very favorable. Moving forward, I will be focusing on working the sideboard to be better against the metagame at large, keeping my eye on Cadaver Imp to see if four is just too many. Gurmag Angler is on my short list of cards to work back in, either main deck or sideboard, and I may try Liliana’s Specter in the list, as well.
 

Eternally Devoted

This deck felt powerful, and was very fun to play. It is definitely better suited against control decks than most Mono-Black Control decks, as it has Font of Return and Cadaver Imp to grind through removal. It may have a slightly more difficult time against aggressive decks, but it also stands to win faster if it survives the initial onslaught. I look forward to working with this decklist, and I also look forward to seeing how people choose to push the deck in the opposite direction: less devotion, and more value.
 
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, you can always contact me on Twitter (@blackdeckwins) and on Tumlbr (also @blackdeckwins), where I write articles about Limited and custom Magic card design. You can also check out all of my previous articles on PureMTGO by following this link.