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By: walkerdog, Tyler Walker
May 05 2008 12:12am
3.8
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Traditionally mono-color decks have been a slightly weak proposition in Classic play.  Burn.dec has done some nice things of course and Mono-Black pops up sometimes, but by and large the best decks have at least two colors.  This is primarily because of the color wheel, MTG’s attempt at having five diverse, yet slightly overlapping “sides” to play from, and because you can address one color’s weaknesses by adding a second, third or even fourth color to your deck. 

Now comes a deck that previously was competitive, but not a tier one deck.  A deck that was fun to play, but lost far too often to lucky topdecks, more powerful cards, and threats it could not beat.  That deck is Mono-Black!  Now, your old-school Black deck might look something like this:

Generic Black Deck
A Generic Example of the Oldschool Pox deck.
Creatures
4
Dark Confidant
2 Tombstalker

Other Spells
3
Thoughtseize
4 Duress
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Smallpox
3 Pox
4 The Rack
4 Smother
4 Dark Ritual
3 Phyrexian Totem
Lands
14
Swamp
4 Mishra's Factory
1 Tomb of Urami
2 Dakmor Salvage
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Dark Confidant

 
You’re mostly trying to win by ripping their hand apart with Hymn to Tourach, Duress, and Thoughtseize, and maybe hit their land-base, depending how into the Pox/Smallpox effects you venture.  Then you’d try to drop a Dark Confidant to ride a slew of card advantage to the win, or The Rack and kill them with it.  Why was this deck weak?  Slow draws, being overpowered, Bob is a x/1 and could die quickly, random hosers like Dodecapod, Brainstorm, etc.  The deck could win with a nice hand, sometimes won with decent hands, but just wasn’t gassy enough due to various small weaknesses that combined to make the deck shaky.


Now, before I go into the new build too much, I want to pitch some credit to IceAge4Life.  I have previously mentioned a build of Mono-Black that I felt would be viable, but I did not bother following that up until I saw him doing, as I was missing a key card to do it.  However, I saw him drop the new “best two-drop in STD”, and watched him play two matches that confirmed my gut instinct.  Mono-Black with Bitterblossom is not only viable, it is good.

Pox
I want to jump back again for a quick review of previous builds.  The BEST previous builds of the deck, in my opinion, were Pox builds that dropped Racks to kill, and COULD get some advantage with Bob.  This was actually kind of awful though, even though you had to do it.  First, Bob is very vulnerable.  He is a creature, an x/1, and he hurt you during a time when you were Poxing yourself and your opponent already, and then whenever you Pox, you usually ended up killing him off.  Bad times.  Bitterblossom in an enchantment (The second-“hardest” to remove permanent right now), doesn’t die to direct damage, and only pings you for a point at a time.  So, for the same cost, we’re getting a harder-to-kill source of card-advantage (in the form of 1/1 Flying Faeries tokens).  Seems fine.

Now, jumping back into the current build, we’ll start off with our mana.  It is rock-solid.  You’re one color, so you can rock some Mishra’s Factory if you like, and I do like four of them.  Next, one Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to occasionally help “fix” those Factories.  Follow that up with a Tomb of Urami and a couple of Dakmor Salvage.  Salvage is another card that is great for this build.  You can hit your mana much more frequently than your opponent with it, and you don't HAVE to dredge it back if you don't need it of course.  If you prefer, you could squeeze in some number of Ghost Quarter, and I'll come back to them later.

You want at least six Pox effects.  These are your bread-and-butter.  They don’t do any one thing particularly well, but they disrupt almost every aspect of an opponent’s game, be it life, lands, cards in hand, or creatures on the board, they all feel the pain.  Eight is fine, but I can see going as low as six.  Next we need some complementary discard.  I personally like Duress to give you a quality turn one play, and Thoughtseize to double your pleasure.  Hymn to Tourach is the drill sergeant for your discard army, making all your other cards better by acting as card advantage, land destruction and discard (of course).

To kill the opponent, we're going bigger.  We already have two Tombstalkers but want four now that we don't have to concern ourselves with "flip-eights" from Dark Confidant.  He is easy to play relatively quickly due to all your cards that will be binning, and will usually finish the game in one or two hits.  The Rack is still fine as it's easy to drop and actually likes it when you and your opponent are playing off the top of your decks.  (Bitterblossom still brings the beats (one painful hit at a time), and Factories and Tomb tokens can always mop up.


Two cards I'm not sure shouldn't go in the deck are Ghost Quarter and Cabal Therapy.  Therapy of course has crazy synergy with Bitterblossom tokens, and doesn't cost the life that Thoughseize does.  I didn't quite like it more than Thoughseize, but it can be your preference.  Ghost Quarter might be a better four-of SB card to Engineered Plague.  It just wrecks Affinity, any of the combo decks trying to win with Invasion sac-lands and three-color decks.  The reason for this is they run few-to-no basics, allowing you to approach them with a mana-denial strategy from turn one.  Here is the list that I've been running with:

Death From Above!
The New Hotness in Black Decks (for now)
Creatures
4
Tombstalker

Other Spells
3
Thoughtseize
4 Duress
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Smallpox
3 Pox
4 The Rack
4 Smother
4 Bitterblossom
Lands
14
Swamp
4 Mishra's Factory
1 Tomb of Urami
2 Dakmor Salvage
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Bitterblossom


So, what are the deck's matchups like?  I've been testing around a week, so I don't want to say for CERTAIN, but here is what I have seen from this testing.  Burn.dec is irritating.  It can and does beat you, but it runs such a tight land-count that simply resolving two Pox-effects can put you dangerously low... and then they never cast another spell.  In this matchup you mostly want to rely on your discard to tear up their hand, and beat down with a Tombstalker.  You side out Bitterblossom of course, and bring in Extirpate, seeking to get value by hitting card that you've discarded that you know they have a duplicate of in their hand.  Always take out Fireblast if you haven't hit their lands; if you have been knocking them down, get the one-casting-cost burn.

Other Mono-Black decks just can't take it.  You're both Poxing (or they're laying dudes that get crushed by your Poxes), you're both discarding... but you can stick Bitterblossom, dredge back land and drop multiple Tombstalkers.  Feels like a blowout to me.  Another blowout occurs with Flash.  As with most decks that can drop a hardcasted Leyline of the Void followed by tons of discard, Death from Above reigns supreme over their suddenly too-slow kills.  Dreadnoughts are a bigger threat; but then you have eleven cards to kill them (If you haven't discarded them), plus they better come quick because your threats will be flying over the top!


Sensei Sensei is another matchup that I enjoy.  It's good for you, but they can fight back due to their ability to hide cards with Brainstorm, Top into gas and go off out of nowhere, but this deck NEEDS its mana.  It can't really win without it, so Pox it up.  Then come at them with 1/1s.  Pithing Needle comes in here, naming (Sensei's

Pithing Needle
 Divining Top), Engineered Explosives and then anything else you want.  You can get rid of your Smothers into the SB.  Bomberman has been wracking up nice results (GJ Whiffy and Snuffy) recently, and it is another reason to love this deck.  They need their lands.  They need their cards, and they need their graveyards.  You can sideboard in Extirpate and Pithing Needle to hit, well, everything to their combo, and while their 2/4 and 3/4 dudes are tough... they aren't very resilient to Pox.  Make sure to name Top with Needle if they run the counterbalance package; otherwise your list goes Auriok Salvagers, Engineered Explosives and then Lion's Eye Diamond.  

Invasion-sac-land combo is funny-easy too...  You just tear their hand apart (which they kind of need to play their comb) while your Poxes tear up their lands.  All your finishers are pretty good here.  You don't really need to sideboard anything, although Extirpate is acceptable if you want to take out their key cards; but really you should just make them discard their hand.  Ghost Quarter gets pretty silly here.

Thresh is where is starts to get interesting... you see a lot of blowouts both ways.  If they drop a Mongoose, and have a nice hand of countermagic, they will probably just ride him to the win.  However, you have a good angle of attack, since you run seven Pox effects to make them sac him, and if you resolve two of them, you'll probably win, since their mana is awesome (in that it is usually only 17-18 lands), but awful if you kill a few of those lands.  Here is another time when Ghost Quarter seems absurdly good.  In fact, this matchup alone probably warrants dropping Engineered Plague and sliding in four GQs into your sideboard.  Factories are nice too, because as 2/2 +1/+1 they can tangle with Mongoose.  Tarmogoyf can just kill you quickly I guess, but he's not that scary in this fight.  In the meanwhile, your best hand includes a Duress/Thoughseize or two, two-three lands, and a Bitterblossom/Tomb Stalker, and Pox or Smallpox.  This is an exceedingly hard start for them to beat, especially on the play.  Furthermore, if they FoW your one-casting-cost discard, it's pretty much like they Hymn themself, even if their hand is still spicy.


I've probably missed some matchups, and I can go over any more matchups you have questions about, but the best way to get a feel for the matchup will be to test it yourself, which I highly recommend.  This deck is stronger than previous Black decks, and feels like it has enough good matchups to qualify as a first-tier deck.  If you have any questions or comments, please share them in the comments section!

9 Comments

You're doing your best by walkerdog at Tue, 05/06/2008 - 16:28
walkerdog's picture

DL you're hinting at what next week's article's first half will be about.

by dangerlinto at Tue, 05/06/2008 - 13:40
dangerlinto's picture

I don't think you really need the many Smothers main deck. I'd probably look to removing 3 in this list for 2 clamps and a Vampiric Tutor.

But then, I'd probably much rather run a B/W version of this list without poxes and run Deadguy off of a Bitterblossom/Skullclamp engine, with enlightened tutor doing doubletime for each.

by DRAGONDUNG at Tue, 05/06/2008 - 11:16
DRAGONDUNG's picture

im really not convinced this it Teir 1 but with out events i wouldnt rule it out completely i think it needs the clamps to keep the steam though. 

How can you not run skullclamp? by dangerlinto at Tue, 05/06/2008 - 09:43
dangerlinto's picture

How can you mention a mono-black bitterblosom deck and not even mention skullclamp?  I would expect any such article to at least say why it's not in your decklist. 

Regarding Clamp: by walkerdog at Tue, 05/06/2008 - 09:58
walkerdog's picture

A fine point DL:  Skullclamp is very nice when you have Blossom active, but I didn't like more than 1-2.  It was an oversight on my part to completely skip mentioning though.

walkerdog by walkerdog at Mon, 05/05/2008 - 15:53
walkerdog's picture

Landstill is rough, although I missed mentioning it.  Fish is much like Thresh, if they can ride a dude while holding you at bay, they will win.  Otherwise, you tend to just overwhelm them.  Zoo is pretty easy since they tend to be like Burn, but with less instant-speed topdecks to throw at your face.

waffle spot by walkerdog at Mon, 05/05/2008 - 14:42
walkerdog's picture

That's my waffle spot, for some reason I missed it.  Right now, I keep going back and for between Ritual and Phyrexian Totem.  I missed talking about that for some reason.  Thanks for pointing it out.

by Raddman at Mon, 05/05/2008 - 14:50
Raddman's picture

I have always leaned towards the dark side so I love the decklist, still not convinced it is T1, but I hoped to be proved wrong.

 How does it test vs Landstill, Dredge, Fish and Zoo Variants?

 You said it owns Flash, but Flash also runs Brainstorms to help hide the necessary cards.  I can see how gm 2,3 might be harder for Flash, but not sure how this can be seen as a landslide.  Then again, gy based decks are so hated atm that running Flash is a crapshoot at best.

If I am online and you need help testing let me know, I will be happy to help ya.

by Harold of Newcastle (Unregistered) 77.97.91.239 (not verified) at Mon, 05/05/2008 - 11:49
Harold of Newcastle (Unregistered) 77.97.91.239's picture

Excelent article. Especially welcome when i'm considering putting together a mono black list :)

I imagine the missing cards in your list are 4xDark Ritual.