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Nov 25 2008 7:53am
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Explorations #9 - The Zombie Whisperer

Steve Gargolinski

Author's Note:  The editor is being weird for me today, and I can't add anywhere near as many images as I would like.  The match reports are particularly sparse, and I apologize for that.  This article is very long, and I'd bet that's the problem.

I've been working on Standard decks for a while now, but today I'm going to take a look at an Extended deck that will hopefully appeal to Johnnies everywhere. I'll probably be back to Standard next week, but Pro Tour Berlin has inspired me to dust off some old, virtual cardboard.

Mono black decks are near and dear to my heart. Black has always been my favorite color in Magic. In my first starter deck (Unlimited) I opened Demonic Hordes, Dark Ritual, Pestilence, and Terror. Let me just tell you - I could not be defeated. My biggest nightmare was Circle of Protection: Black, but there was exactly one of those in my playgroup at the time. Believe it or not, my biggest problem was trading for basic Swamps. Finding basic land was actually difficult back then. Forget about buying 1,000 assorted lands off of eBay for $10. There just wasn't enough to go around.

Obviously, times have changed since then. About 10,000 new cards have been released, the Pro Tour and Grand Prix circuits have risen, Planeswalkers have entered the game, archetypes have been born, evolved, and died. Just like most other strategies, mono black has fluctuated between strong, weak, and everything in between. Right now, mono black is not particularly strong in Extended - at least, not by high-level tournamnet standards. But does that mean you shouldn't play it? Does it mean it isn't fun? Hell no! Hopefully today I'll walk through a deck that is fun to play and also somewhat competitive.

It's such a shame that Affinity was so ridiculously overpowered in Mirrodin. That super-strong linear soured everyone to a block full of fun and cool cards. Every time that I look through a Mirrodin card list, I end up finding some awesome card that I want to build around. During Mirrodin block there was a rogue deck running around that used Endless Whispers along with Leveler.

Endless Whispers
Leveler
Are there many cooler ways to win?

Unfortunately I can't find a list right now.  The closest that I can find is a forum post featuring a player mentioning something along the lines of, "My favorite PTQ moment was going 3-3 in Mirrodin Block with an Endless Whispers/Leveler combo deck."  This deck wasn't very good, which shouldn't really be much of a surprise, but it sure seems like a lot of fun.  Here's how it worked:

  • Get Endless Whispers into play.
  • Cast Leveler which removes your library from the game.
  • Sacrifice Leveler.  This can be done a million different ways, although Spawning Pit was the weapon of choice in the particular deck I'm thinking of.
  • At the end of your turn, Endless Whispers donates Leveler to your opponent - thus removing their library from the game.
  • Your opponent decks during his draw phase.

This is obviously a pretty cool way to win, although there are some problems.  If your opponent has Inspiration or Careful Consideration then you're pretty much finished.  Playing a deck that loses to any instant speed targeted card draw is definitely an acquired taste, and not for everyone.  Putting yourself in a position to lose to your own Leveler is not something that every Magic player is interested in.

How about a combo that opens you up to killing yourself in a whole different way?

Isn't "Phage the Unplayable" a lot more fun to win with than Leveler alongside Endless Whispers?  Sure she costs 3BBBB instead of 5, but the Phage win is a lot safer than the Leveler win - your deck no longer scoops to Inspiration.  Not only that, but Phage is actually somewhat useful without Endless Whispers - something that can't be said about Leveler.

This win condition is very unconventional, and definitely one of the most badass ways to finish off an opponent.  You always get extra credit for winning with a card that says "you win the game", and double extra credit for winning with a card that says "you lose the game".

The Endless Whispers + Phage win is pretty similar to the Endless Whispers + Leveler combo:

  • Get Endless Whispers and Phage the Untouchable into play.
  • Find some way to kill/sacrifice Phage.
  • At the end of your turn, Endless Whispers donates Phage to your opponent.
  • Phage's triggered ability causes your opponent to lose the game.

Sounds like fun, time to make a deck.

With both Endless Whispers and Phage the Untouchable, we're talking about a whole bunch of black mana symbols - so I started throwing together a mono black deck to take advantage of this combo.  I start out by adding an old favorite Duress...  and then can't find it in MTGO's deck editor.  What the hell?  Where is it?  And then it dawns on me...  Duress rotated out of Extended in October - bummer, that was one of my favorites.  At least we have Thoughtseize, right?

After realizing this, I decided to make a list of notable mono-black style cards that just rotated out of Extended.  I'll do my best to figure out some potential (also mono-black) replacements.  Some cards on this list are tournament staples, some are popular with the casual crowd, and some of them are just fun - but they're all right at home in a mono-black deck.

Seventh Edition

Duress
Bereavement
Yawgmoth
Engineered Plague
Crypt Rats
Infernal Contract
Greed
Reprocess
Strands of Night
Dregs of Sorrow

Duress was mentioned above, and has been a premier discard/disruption spell for years.  Thoughtseize is probably the best replacement, but Distress, Raven's Crime, and Blackmail are solid budget options.  Engineered Plague has seen tons of play in sideboards through the years, often naming Goblin.  Night of Souls' Betrayal might be the closest replacement avaialble in present-day Extended.

Bereavement and Yawgmoth's Edict represent an abandoned part of Magic's history:  color hosers.  Not many of these types of cards are printed these days, but back in the day spells like these filled sideboards across the land.  Gloom vs. Circle of Protection: Black was a common battle back in the days of Revised.

Infernal Contract, Greed, and Reprocess all represent powerful card-drawing abilities.  Seeing as we're talking about black, these extra cards always come at a price.  Phyrexian Arena, Dark Confidant, Ambition's Cost, Minions' Murmurs, Graveborn Muse, and Phyrexian Etchings provide a variety of ways to draw cards at a price in the new Extended.

Strands of Night has found its way into many casual reanimator decks alongside Zombify, Dread Return, and ResurrectionDregs of Sorrow provides a very powerful, mana-intensive ability that also seems to be pretty unique.  Crypt Rats the closest thing black had to Pestilence since Fifth Edition, and represents an ability that is now largely situated in the red sector of the color pie:  Pyrohemia, Pyroclasm, Sulfurous Blast, Jaya Ballard, Task Mage, Ashling the Pilgrim.

Invasion

Yawgmoth

Twilight

Planeshift

Diabolic Intent

Phyrexian Scuta

Apocalypse

Desolation Angel
I've decided to group all three of the Invasion block sets together.  There are not many entries in this section, which is not surprising when you consider that Invasion was a multi-colored block.

Yawgmoth's Agenda didn't have as big of an impact as some of Yawgmoth's other material, but whenever you're able to access the graveyard toolbox-style, broken things are possible.  This is not an ability that black gets access to much anymore, but I suppose that Colfenor's Plans has sort of a similar feel.  This is a stretch, I know.

Twilight's Call is a throwback to All Hallow's Eve, and can be replaced by something like Empty the Catacombs or Living End.  Neither of these cards capture the potential instant speed of Twilight Call, which puts them a step behind on the power curve - but it's all that we have to work with.

Diabolic Intent is one of the closest things that we'll see to a two-mana Demonic Tutor in modern day Magic.  There are a variety of other tutors available for black, but each one has some sort of drawback:  Diabolic Tutor (costs four), Beseech the Queen (mana cost restrictions), Infernal Tutor (requires discarding your hand), and Liliana Vess (not exactly a drawback - costs five along with a variety of other abilities).

Phyrexian Scuta is yesterday's Juzam Djinn - a former powerhouse who is not quite so strong in today's Magic.  So who is today's Juzam?  Plague Sliver is probably the closest fit, although you could argue for a creature like Korlash, Heir to Blackblade, (Yukora the Prisoner), or Grinning Demon.

Desolation Angel has been used as a finisher across multiple formats.  It's not easy to match an evasive, five power monster who blows up all lands in play.  I'm having a tough time finding a suitable replacement here.

Odyssey

Entomb
Innocent Blood
Skeletal Scrying
Tainted Pact
Zombie Infestation
Buried Alive
Gravestorm
Braids, Cabal Minion
Nefarious Lich
Haunting Echoes

Entomb and Buried Alive are powerful enablers for reanimation strategies, able to dump the most powerful creature in your deck into the bin reliably.  Moving forward, your best bet to replace this functionality is probably some sort of dredge strategy with cards like Stinkweed Imp.

Innocent Blood is one of my favorite cards, and one that I'm particularly sad to see go.  Shards of Alara brought Bone Splinters, but that one requires that you actually have a creature in play.  What fun is a card like Innocent Blood if you can't break the symmetry?  Sure trading a 1/1 for a big monster is good, but I'd rather give up nothing at all.  Barter in Blood is like a double Innocent Blood at four times the cost.

Skeletal Scrying and Tainted Pact are black-flavored card-drawing spells - alternatives are discussed above.  Gravestorm is some more weird card drawing, combined with the ability to clean out an opponent's graveyard and keep them off of threshold/graveyard tricks.  I guess that the closest replacement is Relic of Progenitus, Scrabbling Claws, or even Tormod's Crypt - which aren't black, but artifacts.  Beckon Apparition, Cremate, Fade from Memory, and Withered Wretch all provide some sort of similar effect while staying in black.

Haunting Echoes is similar to four or so Extirpates.  Zombie Infestation has something in common with Bridge from Below, and the new Alara card Immortal Coil is a strange variation on Nefarious LichBraids, Cabal Minion is a bit like Woebringer Demon, and a bit like Magus of the Abyss - but those only affect creatures.  Curse of the Cabal brings other permanents into the equation, but is extremely clunky.

Putrid Imp
Cabal Ritual
Chainer
Mesmeric Fiend
Nantuko Shade
Ichorid
Insidious Dreams
Mutilate
Dawn of the Dead
Laquatus
Cabal Coffers

Dredge decks are already feeling the loss of Putrid Imp (alongside the other one-mana dredge enablers), and have to look towards slower cards like Oona's Prowler if they want a straight up replacement.  Some dredge decks lived on into the Pro Tour Berlin Extended metagame - running Glimpse the Unthinkable, Goblin Lore, and Magus of the Bazaar as enablers.  Ichorid is another big loss for the dredge decks, and the best replacement recurring threat seems to be Nether Traitor.  Not nearly as exciting.

TEPS (and other combo decks) lost Cabal Ritual, which sort of represents the last good black instant-speed accelerator.  Wizards has moved this ability into red over the past few years, and there really haven't been any black updates.  If you want fast mana, you should look towards Seething Song, Rite of Flame, and maybe Desperate Ritual.  Along the same lines, Cabal Coffers is not easy to replace.  That sort of mana acceleration just isn't something that's available to black magicians anymore.  I guess that Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is as close as it gets - and that offers zero acceleration.

Nantuko Shade and Laquatus's Champion have been finishers in lots of black decks through the years.  Nantuko Shade is typically used in more suicide-style black decks, and Laquatus's Champion has been included in control builds.  It's tough to replace Nantuko Shade, one of the most efficient beaters ever printed, with any of the modern Shade variants - Slithering Shade and Undercity Shade don't exactly inspire.  Laquatus's Champion comes into play and immediately takes away one-third of your opponent's life, which reminds me of Kokusho, the Evening Star.  Sure Kokusho needs to die to trigger the life loss, but he comes with evasion and also some potential life gain.  Always a solid option for the six-mana mono black finisher slot.

Chainer's Edict can be replaced with the inferior Cruel EdictMesmeric Fiend is a Duress variant and can either be replaced by one of the options discussed above or something like Ravenous RatsInsidious Dreams has been used to sort out combo options, and something like Plunge into Darkness might be a replacement.  Dawn of the Dead is sort of like a huge Bitterblossom, and sort of like a recurring Makeshift Mannequin, Dread Return, or Zombify.

The smallest loss for Extended on this list is probably Mutilate, which was always sort of the best black could do to match Wrath of God.  Planar Chaos gave us Damnation, which is better in just about all cases - unless you're trying to kill Darksteel Colossus alongside eleven Swamps.

Judgement

Cabal Therapy
Stitch Together
Death Wish
Sutured Ghoul

Sutured Ghoul was a kill condition for some dredge decks alongside Dragon Breath, but hadn't been used as much since the plan switched over to Bridge from Below and Flame-Kin Zealot.

Cabal Therapy is another loss for the dredge decks, and one of my personal favorite cards.  What can I say?  I love spells that cost B.  As discussed above with Duress, Thoughtseize is probably the best alternative here - but losing the flashback on Cabal Therapy is a major bummer.  If you want to keep the flashback then I guess you could play with Skull Fracture, but Raven's Crime is almost exclusively better.

Stitch Together is a popular spell with casual players, and is going to be tough to replace with a single card.  Grim Harvest and Recover are somewhat reasonable Raise Dead variants, and we've already discussed plenty of reanimation alternatives above.  Death Wish is almost impossible to replace; black does not have any other options to tutor for cards outside of the game.

Alright, that took longer than I had expected but it was cool to look back through all of those old card lists.  Did I forget anything major?  Let me know if I did!

Back to The Zombie Whisperer

Oh where were we?  Making a deck based on Endless Whispers and Phage the Untouchable?  Alright, back to that!

I don't want to rely too much on the Phage the Untouchable combo - so let's brainstorm a few other creatures that play well with Endless Whispers.

Bronze Bombshell
Sacrifices for seven damage to your opponent and then comes back into play under your control.  At 4/1 it's also useful even without Endless Whispers or a way to sacrifice it.  Trades with pretty much anything.

Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
Not a bad creature to give to your opponent as long as they aren't playing Swamps.  If they are playing Swamps then it obviously gets significantly worse.

Nightmare, Nantuko Shade, Frozen Shade, Looming Shade
These are all variants to Korlash, discussed above.  Some are stronger than others

Bitterblossom
Not a creature, but sure creates a whole bunch of them.  Token get obliterated once they hit the graveyard, so Endless Whispers will not donate them to your opponent.

Leveler
Discussed above.  Lots of fun, really dangerous.

Lord of the Pit, Liege of the Pit
Forces your opponent to sacrifice creatures, sends them all into play on your side via Endless Whispers.  You still have to deal with a 7/7 flying, trample monster though.

Eater of Days
Any way to make this one work?

In addition to these creatures, there are a bunch of other cards that have good synergy with our strategy.

Damnation
Damnation is a pretty obvious inclusion.  It wipes the board and trades everyone's creatures - hopefully our trade is better!

Barter in Blood
Could be useful if we need Damnation redundency.

Grave Pact
Alongside Endless Whispers, Grave Pact becomes sort of like a weird Control Magic or Ritual of the Machine every time one of your creatures dies.

Claws of Gix
I guess this is the easiest way to sacrifice our own stuff in Extended - useful to sacrifice Bronze Bombshell or Phage.

Scrabbling Claws
Endless Whispers doesn't trigger until the end of your turn, so you can use this to remove one of your dead creatures from the game and prevent it from going to your opponent.  Might be worth running.

Withered Wretch
Similar to Scrabbling Claws.  More expensive, but beats and can be used more than once per turn.

Lethal Vapors
Works well with Endless Whispers, stalls down the game some against aggro.  Sounds like a fun card to try out.

Night of Souls' Betrayal
Slows down creature-based strategies if we can get it out in time, kills Bronze Bombshell instantly, and has terrible synergy with Bitterblossom.

Shriekmaw
Solid control early, evasive beater late.  If Endless Whispers does give this guy to our opponent, he should have very few targets for the triggered Terror.

Fleshbag Marauder
Discussed earlier as a potential replacement for Innocent Blood.  Comes into play and kills an opponent's creature, while also sending Bronze Bombshell at their face.

Skulltap
If we need card draw, then this is a potential option.  It depends how badly we're looking for ways to sacrifice creatures.

Liliana Vess
Liliana is a card that I really want to focus on.  We're talking about running a lot of bizarre options in this list, and Liliana's tutor power allows us to run more of a toolbox.

Diabolic Tutor, Beseech the Queen
More tutor options.

Alright, time to throw together a first list: 

 This list looks really janky, but also a lot of fun.  In addition to the options discussed above I added Corrupt and Phyrexian Arena, alongside singleton copies of Loxodon Warhammer, Visara the Dreadful, Slaughter Pact, and Cranial Extraction.  Corrupt and Loxodon Warhammer provide some lifegain to counteract the lifeloss from Bitterblossom and Phyrexian Arena, as well as some alternate win conditions.  Three copies of Liliana Vess will hopefully allow us plenty of access to the cards in our toolbox.

Visara is NOT something that we want to give to our opponent via Endless Whispers, but it's pretty much the only creature we're scared of losing.  She is in the deck as an alternate win condition, and is also another way to kill our own creatures if need be.

Time to Test

I'm going to run it through some test games and see how it goes.

Game 1 vs Modular/Affinity

My opponent starts off quick with double Arcbound Worker and then double Tooth of Chiss-Goria.  I play out Bitterblossom and then Mind Stone, taking some damage and sticking on just two lands.  Bitterblossom tokens trade with both Workers, but their Modular ability powers up my opponent's new Arcbound Stinger.  I have a hand of double Endless Whispers and double Damnation.  Eventually I'm just overwhelmed - I never see a third land.

Analysis:  Surviving an early aggro rush is definitely something that this deck needs to be able to do, and this is not a good start.  Things would have been fine if I had just managed to draw one more Swamp.  I'm pretty sure I could have stabilized.

Game 2 vs Lightning Angel

I start out with Scrabbling Claws into Bitterblossom - I wonder how many decks have started out like that?  My opponent plays Ponder, Telling Time, and some Ravniva bounce lands - eventually casting a fourth turn Lightning Angel.  My Bitterblossom turns into Forcefield to hold back the Lightning Angel assault.  I play out two copies of Mind Stone, and then a second Lightning Angel comes into play.  I clear the board with Damnation.

Post-Damnation I cast Phage the Untouchable and my opponent responds by tapping out for Firemane Angel.  I clear the Firemane Angel out of the way with Corrupt and then send Phage into the red zone for the win.

Analysis:  I guess that in making the deck I hadn't even considered that just straight up attacking with Phage is a win condition, and I manage to pull it off in my first non-manascrewed game.  If you've got the mana, then Phage is definitely a very strong follow-up to Damnation.  It forces your opponent to answer it immediately or die.  Since The Zombie Whisperer packs a decent amount of creature removal, chump blocking is not always an option - see this past game as evidence.

Game 3 vs GU Selkie/Shorecrasher

I win the roll and start with Bitterblossom and then Mind Stone.  My opponent plays Shorecrasher Mimic, Counterbalance, and then Wistful Selkie.  I use Barter in Blood to take out both of his creatures, and then bring Liliana Vess into play - tutoring immediately for Endless Whispers.  I cast Korlash to hold off my opponent's Wistful Selkie, and then get my Endless Whispers into play.

I topdeck Slaughter Pact, so I attack with everything, use Liliana Vess to tutor for Bronze Bombshell, fire off Mind Stone to draw the Bombshell, kill it with Slaughter Pact, and then finish off my opponent with the seven damage.

Analysis:  This game really displayed the power of having a toolbox in this deck.  I survived the early rush with Barter in Blood, buying enough time to get Liliana Vess in play and then assemble my win.  Don't forget that you can fire off Mind Stone to immediately draw a card that you tutored up with Liliana.

Game 4 vs WU Control

I lead with Thoughtseize and see double Condemn, Aven Riftwatcher, and Kitchen Finks - I take the Finks.  My opponent eventually casts out the Aven Riftwatcher, alongside a new copy of Kitchen Finks.  I clear the board with Barter in Blood and play out Scrabbling Claws and Bitterblossom.  At this point my opponent has built up quite a bit of mana with double Mind Stone and Coldsteel Heart.

I run out Visara and Korlash, Heir to Blackblade - but Rune Snag takes out both of them before they can even hit the table.  I play Phage the Untouchable and she sticks.  My opponent fired off both of his Mind Stones in search of an answer, so I think I can assume that he's out of answers.  I also know that he has at least two copies of Condemn, so right now I'm planning on winning with Bitterblossom + Loxodon Warhammer.  That's why I'm running out all of my big dudes into counterspells.

With all of that out of the way, I cast Liliana Vess and tutor up Thoughtseize.  All that my opponent has is a Kitchen Finks, who is at a stalemate with Phage.  I've been flying over that mess with Bitterblossom tokens, and want to make sure that the coast is clear before casting the Warhammer.  I tutor up the Warhammer, cast Thoughtseize and see triple Condemn, equip a Bitterblossom token, and get the win.

Analysis:  I love playing decks that have multiple routes to victory.  This deck can with with Endless Whispers reanimation tricks, Phage instant kill, Bombshell damage, Korlash or Bitterblossom tokens with a Warhammer, huge Corrupts, or even the super ability of Liliana Vess.  This game was a really good example of using Thoughtseize to feel out the path of least resistance.  Without this information, I probably would have tried to clear the way for Phage in the red zone and run directly into many copies of Condemn.  Think hard about the best way to win.

Game 5 vs Post-Tron

My opponent never gets it together this game.  He plays out a single Cloudpost, double Urza's Tower, and one Urza's Power Plant.  I play Bitterblossom, Mind Stone, and then Korlash into the beatdown.  Oblivion Stone hits the table and I'm careful not to overextend.

Eventually my opponent is running too low on life and has to fire off Oblivion Stone facing down a lethal attack, but I'm able to regenerate Korlash.  One more swing alongside Corrupt finishes off my opponent.

Analysis:  Not much to say here.  My opponent was never able to get anything going.

Game 6 vs RB Demons

I get Bitterblossom and Mind Stone early, but take some damage from Ogre Marauder before my Faerie tokens can take it down.  Phyrexian Totem powers out a 4/4 Promise of Power, which I chump block with Bitterblossom tokens.  I stick Bronze Bombshell and then Endless Whispers while my opponent plays out Blood Speaker.

Damnation clears out the board, does seven to my opponent via the Bronze Bombshell, and brings the Bombshell and Blood Speaker into play on my side.  My opponent tries to come back with Yukora, the Prisoner - but I have Slaughter Pact for another seven points of Bronze Bombshell damage and the win.

Analysis:  Bronze Bombshell is a much faster win with Endless Whispers than Phage the Untouchable.  The way this deck is put together right now, by the time Endless Whispers gets going chances are that Korlash and/or Bitterblossom have already done a bunch of damage.  From that point you don't need an instant-win, you just need seven or so damage.

Deck Updates

This deck could definitely use some more removal.  It is a major bummer that Innocent Blood just rotated out of Extended, it would be absolutely perfect for this deck.  Pretty much the only way to squeeze more removal into this list is to weaken the toolbox aspect a bit.

Out:  1x Cranial Extraction, 1x Visara, 1x Slaughter Pact, 1x Mind Stone, 1x Liliana Vess
In:  4x Warren Weirding, 1x Endless Whispers
 

The Zombie Whisperer v2
Steve Gargolinski - Extended Legal
Creatures
4 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
1 Bronze Bombshell
1 Phage the Untouchable
6 cards

Other Spells
4 Damnation
3 Mind Stone
4 Thoughtseize
4 Warren Weirding
3 Corrupt
2 Bitterblossom
2 Phyrexian Arena
3 Endless Whispers
2 Liliana Vess
1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Scrabbling Claws
1 Barter in Blood
30 cards
Lands
24 Swamp
24 cards
 
Liliana Vess

Warren Weirding is somewhat of a strange choice, but pretty much the only removal I could find in the one or two mana slot that doubles as a way to off my own creatures.  I added the additional Endless Whispers so that hopefully I'll be able to use it as something other than a combo piece - I want to just run that baby out there and start taking guys down.

Game 7 vs BR Goblins / Confidant

I mulligan away a hand with six Swamps and Loxodon Warhammer, and keep a hand with five Swamps and Thoughtseize.  On turn one I cast Thoughtseize and see a bunch of Fodder Launches, Dragon Fodder (sweet combo), Nantuko Husk, and Lightning Greaves.  I take the Greives, and then watch as my opponent plays out consecutive topdecks of Mogg Fanatic and then Dark Confidant.

I take some beats, and then use Barter in Blood to clear the table.  My opponent comes back with his Dragon Fodder and then Nantuko Husk, which I take care of with Damnation.  I cast out Phage the Untouchable, and my opponent concedes without an answer.

Analysis:  This one is very similar to game number two.  If I can control the early game and then resolve Phage, it's not impossible to just attack with her for the win.  I know that she has the nickname of "Phage the Unplayable", but there are plenty of situations where she can just take over the game.

Game 8 vs Green Shroud

My opponent comes out very fast with elf, and then double Elf on turns one and two.  I play a Mind Stone on turn two, and then fire off Damnation on turn three to clear the board.  My opponent responds by playing THREE copies of Troll Ascetic in a row!  I've got plenty of mana, and two copies of Corrupt - but can't do anything about the trolls.  Kodama of the North Tree hits the table, and I have to send both of my Corrupts at my opponent to stay alive.  I fire off both of my Mind Stones, but can't find Damnation.  I use two copies of Warren Weirding to slow the assault down, but I can't stop the damage.

Analysis:  In retrospect, I should obviously have saved my Damnation.  The prospect of taking down three mana Elves with just one card, before the acceleration helps my opponent at all was just too tempting.  The Zombie Whisperer does a decent job of dealing with Shroud, but triple Troll Ascetic and Kodama of the North Tree is tough for any deck to deal with.

Game 9 vs BW Awesome Creatures

My opponent starts off with Godless Shrine, and plays down Hollow Specter on turn three.  I Thoughtseize away Lightning Greives on turn one, and then use Damnation to prevent any Hollow Specter issues.  My opponent casts Ashling the Extinguisher, and I match it with Endless Whispers.  For some reason my opponent plays out a Necrotic Sliver, and I obviously Barter in Blood to control both creatures.  He makes another mistake and plays out another Hollow Specter, which I'm also able to control.

the whole rest of the game is me beating him down with his own creatures while stripping away his hand.  Sweet!

Analysis:  Even though I didn't see any copies of Warren Weirding, this is pretty much what I had in mind when I made that last round of deck updates.  If your opponent extends at all with an Endless Whispers on the board, then they are opening themselves up for some huge problems in the form of Damnation or Barter in Blood.

Game 10 vs Green Creatures

I play Thoughtseize, and strip away Troll Ascetic.  My opponents casts Sakura-Tribe Elder and then Wall of Roots.  He accelerates into Garruk Wildspeaker, and I cast out Endless Whispers followed by Damnation.  I cast Mind Stone into Liliana Vess and then tutor up Phage the Untouchable.  Garruk's beast tokens take out my Planeswalker, but I have an opening to cast Phage thanks to Mind Stone and my stolen Wall of Roots.  Our creatures stare at each other in stalemate for a turn, and then I use Barter in Blood to pass Phage over to my opponent for the win.

Analysis:  One of the toughest things about the Phage win with this deck is, obviously, hitting the required seven mana.  If you're able to steal some mana accelerators via Endless Whispers, then that obviously helps out a lot.

Game 11 vs UB Tough to Block Guys

I have to mulligan away a hand with zero lands into five Swamps and an Endless Whispers.  I don't do anything until turn four, and by then my opponent has Prickly Boggart, Nether Traitor, Infiltrator il-Kor, Bonesplitter, and Wasp Lancer.  I end up at eight life, but cast Damnation to take control of all four creatures.  I have double Corrupt, and take care of two more Wasp Lancers that hit the board while boosting my life total back into a safe range.  The writing is on the wall, and my opponent concedes.

Analysis:  This game was very similar to game nine.  If you can withstand an early assault, then aggro decks without burn (or some other reach) have a tough time sealing the deal.

Game 12 vs UB Ninjas

I mulligan a one land hand, keeping double Swamp into Phyrexian Arena.  My opponent plays Steel Wall, Dimir Signet, and then Ronin Warclub.  I draw some more land off of Phyrexian Arena and play out Endless Whispers, while my opponent starts a little beatdown with Mistblade Shinobi ninjitsuing into Hagure, the Still Wind and tutoring up Okiba-Gang Shinobi.

I know that I can't affort to take a hit from the Okiba-Gang, so I Thoughtseize it away and then use Damnation to take control of Higure and the Steel Wall.  Mistblade Shinobi comes back into play and gets Infiltrator's Magemark, but I take it out (and take it over) with Corrupt - which has the side benefit of moving my life total back into a comfortable range.  I start to beat my opponent down with his own Ninjas.

He uses Terror to get Higure back and tutors up Ink-Eyes.  I play Bronze Bomshell, and then use Warren Weirding on myself, sacrificing the Bombshell to do enough damage to win.

Analysis:  Mind Stone into Phyrexian Arena, Endless Whispers, Damnation, and double Corrupt backup is a pretty good way to go for this deck against aggro.  After that point, there's really nothing at all he could have done to me.  I had plenty of creature kill, backup Korlash, and even an extra Thoughtseize in my hand.

Lessons

Alright, I'm going to call it a day with this deck.  I've won with Phage the Untouchable, and I've won with Bronze Bomshell.  I've won by beating my opponent down entirely with his own creatures, and with straightforward Korlash/Bitterblossom beatdown.  These are all signs of a successful deck building exercise.  I'd recommend trying out this deck, or something like it.  It's just a blast to play.

If you're having trouble dealing with aggro, then there are two options that I can think of.  The first idea is to speed up the mana in the deck.  This deck already runs four copies of Mind Stone, but it's possible that isn't enough.  Coldsteel Heart is probably the best option for redundency in this slot.  Unfortunately there isn't anything like Dark Ritual around, but there is Chrome Mox.  It may be worth the short-term card disadvantage of Chrome Mox to speed up Damnation or Endless Whispers by a turn.  The other idea to help against aggro is to up the number of board sweepers.  Instead of Warren Weirding, you could try out something like Infest, Barter in Blood, or even Mutilate as redundant Damnation copies.

If you're having trouble with control decks, then the main tool that mono black has to fight with is discard.  Thoughtseize, Distress, Stupor, Blackmail, and maybe even Smallpox are all spells to consider.  Phyrexian Totem is also potentially strong against something like blue control.  If you can get it through counters on turn three, then it can be difficult to deal with - especially with Thoughtseize in hand.

Budget Time

I have gotten some positive feedback from emails and article comments regarding the budget versions of decks that I always post.  I make sure to post a budget version of every deck that I write about moving forward.

Normally, the first place to start chopping value off of a deck is the manabase - but not when we're running a list of just twenty-four Swamps.  To get this deck down into budget-range, we're going to have to do something about Korlash (3.5 tickets each) and Bitterblossom (20 tickets), which have formed a solid beatdown core within the weird combo nature of this deck.  There are a few other expensive cards in there:  Damnation needs to go for sure at 6.5 tickets, Liliana Vess (2 tickets) and Phyrexian Arena (1.5 tickets) might be outside of some budgets.  Let's see what we can do about these slots.

So here are some candidates for replacement.  We should easily be able to trim 100 tickets or so from the cost of this deck.

4 Damnation = 26 tickets
4 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade = 14 tickets
4 Thoughtseize = 32 tickets
2 Bitterblossom = 40 tickets
2 Liliana Vess = 4 tickets
2 Phyrexian Arena = 3 tickets

The first card to replace is Damnation.  We've already discussed a bunch of options above, but I'm pretty sure that Barter in Blood is the clear choice.  Mutilate would be the best replacement, except that it's also fairly expensive at 4 tickets or so.  I can also understand running Infest, the black Pyroclasm, which comes out a turn earlier and in a less-crowded mana slot.

Out:  4x Damnation
In:  3x Barter in Blood, 1x Infest

Korlash is a tough replacement; he's pretty much perfect for this deck.  He protects Liliana, is huge in a deck filled with Swamps, doesn't die easily, doesn't necessarilly go over to our opponent's side if they manage to kill him with Endless Whispers out, swings a Warhammer well, and makes a great win condition.   The best replacement that I can think of right now is Tombstalker.  Tombstalker doesn't regenerate, and is easier to kill, but it also potentially easier to cast and has evasion.

Tombstalkers run about one ticket each.  If that's too expensive for your liking, then Twisted Abomination is another solid option - which is a bulk card.  The Abomination is more difficult to cast, but does have regeneration and can Swampcycle if you're low on lands early.  We're talking budget here, so I'll go with the Twisted Abomination.

Out:  4x Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
In:  4x Twisted Abomination

Bitterblossom is almost impossible to replace.  It brings a fairly unique effect for black and is very, very powerful.  For this exercise, I'm going to replace it with Phyrexian Arena.  The Arena is somewhat similar to Bitterblossom.  It does cost an additional mana, but there are lots of times where the effect is more useful.  What's better to pay one life for each turn - a 1/1 flier or a card?

Out:  2x Bitterblossom
In:  2x Phyrexian Arena

Thoughtseize has a few potential replacements.  Blackmail isn't nearly as powerful in the early game, but is strong in the mid game and only costs one.  Duress provides a better effect than Thoughtseize, but for an additional mana.  Usually in Magic, it's not worth paying an additional mana for a slightly better effect, but that is one type of compromise you often need to make in a budget deck.  I'm going to go with Distress here, but both options are decent and have their own strengths and weaknesses depending on the matchup and game state.

Out:  4x Thoughtseize
In:  4x Distress

That leaves us with this list:
 

The Budget Zombie Whisperer
Steve Gargolinski - Extended Legal
Creatures
4 Twisted Abomination
1 Bronze Bombshell
1 Phage the Untouchable
6 cards

Other Spells
4 Barter in Blood
1 Infest
3 Mind Stone
4 Distress
4 Warren Weirding
3 Corrupt
4 Phyrexian Arena
3 Endless Whispers
2 Liliana Vess
1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Scrabbling Claws
30 cards
Lands
24 Swamp
24 cards
 
Warren Weirding

So I removed about 112 tickets from this deck, and added about 4 tickets back in.  Here's the final cost breakdown (prices from mtgotraders.com):

Card
Quantity Total Cost
Twisted Abomination 4 $0.12
Bronze Bombshell 1 $0.20
Phage the Untouchable 1 $0.50
Barter in Blood 4 $0.20
Infest 1 $0.34
Mind Stone 3 $1.50
Distress 4 $0.08
Warren Weirding 4 $0.32
Corrupt 3 $0.15
Phyrexian Arena 4 $6.00
Endless Whispers 3 $2.50
Liliana Vess 2 $4.00
Loxodon Warhammer 1 $1.20
Scrabbling Claws 1 $0.04

That comes to just over $17 total, that isn't bad at all.

I hope you guys enjoyed this walk down mono black memory lane as much as I did.  Thanks for reading!

Steve Gargolinski
spgmtgo@gmail.com

9 Comments

by Anonymous(Unregistered) 76.198.254.165 (not verified) at Sat, 11/29/2008 - 14:22
Anonymous(Unregistered) 76.198.254.165's picture

Good read. Thanks.

Redcap or Puppeteer by Rerepete at Wed, 11/26/2008 - 16:11
Rerepete's picture

What about Murderous Redcap or Puppeteer Clique?  The persist on these two will have it go back to you instead of the other player...

by Isotope(Unregistered) 74.39.232.97 (not verified) at Wed, 11/26/2008 - 09:15
Isotope(Unregistered) 74.39.232.97's picture

He couldn't attack with Phage in said game because his opponent had multiple Condemns.  He would have killed Phage before damage was dealt.

by runeliger at Tue, 11/25/2008 - 23:24
runeliger's picture

Haven't seen some of these cards in ages!

 

Good stuff bringing them back.

by Katastrophe at Tue, 11/25/2008 - 20:22
Katastrophe's picture

The match reports were better than good. :) Don't worry about it.

I always thought of Phage as having "super deathtouch". Like how Rhox has "super trample". Which reminds me. In game 4, couldn't you have won by equipping Phage with the hammer? Trample damage will trigger the super deathtouch.

Eater of Days - wait for Illusionary Mask to appear in MEDVII. Then get a couple Dreadnoughts, some Mana Crypts.... nevermind. Forget the Eater of Days and play the other three. (Someday we'll be playing Legacy online.)

Endless Whispers is such a bad news card. Watching it hit the table (or screen) is like watching Counterbalance resolve. Facing it you know you have two choices: play nothing and get run over by a lone Korlash, or play something and hope that your opponent doesn't have more removal that you. And plan B is a sucker's bet.

 

Coffers.. by spg at Tue, 11/25/2008 - 12:55
spg's picture

I can't BELIEVE I forgot Magus of the Coffers...  Could there be any more obvious replacement?  Also good call on the Gauntlet of Power.  Oh well, it was a long list - I knew I was bound to miss a few!

Creature Removal Idea by Trent (Appollus)(Unregistered) 75.155.21.242 (not verified) at Tue, 11/25/2008 - 14:05
Trent (Appollus)(Unregistered) 75.155.21.242's picture

Hey, the article was really good.. Specially as I am a bit new to magic.. Mitch has been teaching me some.  Anyways I had an idea when you were talking about needing more creature removal and that was Bone Splinters.  A new card from Alara.  You can use it to sacrifice Bombshell or Phage with Endless Whispers out to kill a creature of theirs, or a fairy from bitterblossom if you really need to.  Also you can just kill two of your creatures to give them either Phage or Bombshell when your ready for it.. Just an idea..

by Leviathan at Tue, 11/25/2008 - 15:29
Leviathan's picture

Nice article and quirky deck.  There's always a ton of information in your articles.  The format of one part strategy/card eval, one part deck building/game logs, and one part budgetizing works really well.  Keep it up.

Great article! by hamtastic at Tue, 11/25/2008 - 12:08
hamtastic's picture

As an MBC lover this was fantastic!

I'd like to add a couple of cards you seemed to overlook though:

A budget replacement for Nantuko Shade is Genju of the Fens.  He is surprisingly powerful.

There are a couple of replacements for Cabal Coffers.  You can go with the risky Magus of the Coffers, or the Gauntlet of Power, or the Imprint artifact that doubles mana production (sorry, forgot the name).  All of which work at about the same speed as the coffers(Gauntlet and Magus both put you at -1 possible mana turn 5 but +2 possible mana turn 6, assuming all land drops and cards drawn etc, etc, etc,).

 Also, if you're talking about Mon-Black, a card you'll often want is Night's Whisper.  I love that card for card drawing in color.  Sweetness.

Like I said though, those are minor quibbles, this was a superb article.