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By: Rasparthe, R.A. Sparthe
Dec 04 2007 3:25pm
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Word association has long been a part of psychological testing.  You know the sort.  They tell you a word and you have to quickly answer the first thing that comes to your mind.  For instance, if I said, ‘rabbit’ and the first word that popped into your head was not ‘fluffy’ or ‘cuddly’ but ‘stew’ or ‘pelt’ they would likely lock you up in a padded room. 

If I said mono-Red you might say, ‘RDW’ or ‘quick’ or ‘burn, baby, burn’.  If I said mono-Blue perhaps, ‘Pickles’ or ‘permission’ or maybe you did a Streetfighter-esque blackflip kick and yelled, ‘SONIC BOOOM!’.  What about if I said mono-Black?  What’s that?  Nothing?  Did you whisper ‘jank’? 

It is true, it has been awhile since mono-Black has broken out of the ranks of Tier 2 and into the spotlight as the deck to beat.  States saw a few mono-Black decks make it into Top 8 but for the most part they enjoy something of a cult following.  Nothing to take too seriously.  Kinda like Mel Gibson in Road Warrior or Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.  But here at Rogue Nation we like the underdog; we root for Mel Gibson even though the guy with leather fetish was so obviously going to win.  We want to thrust those Tier two decks straight into…well…Tier 1.5?


1   Snow-Covered Swamp
23 Swamp 

24 Lands

2 Graveborn Muse4 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade

4 Lord of the Undead
4 Nantuko Husk
3 Tombstalker
4 Undead Warchief
4 Withered Wretch

25 creatures

4 Nameless Inversion
3 Profane Command
4 Tendrils of Corruption

11 other spells


Consume Spirit
Graveborn Muse
Sudden Death

15 sideboard cards

This deck took fourth at Virginia States and is typical of the Black beatdown strategy.  The first thing you should note, for an aggressive deck there are no one drops and a single playset of creature two-drops (Tombstalker, notwithstanding) putting it solidly in the mid-range.  The deck doesn’t really get moving until its hits the third and fourth land drop which is why this mono-color deck is running twenty four lands.  That is slow for a beatdown strategy.  The deck tries to make up for the lack of early development with a good amount of removal to ensure when the beats do make it online they reach the red zone.  

 This deck can be successful in dealing large amounts of damage if Undead Warchief and Lord of the Undead reach play, especially in multiples.  Unfortunately, this should serve to highlight my major problem with the deck.  I can only imagine how many times a situation like this happens.  The mono-Black players curves out with a turn two Withered Wretch and a turn three Lord of the Undead.  His opponent already has a Phyrexian Ironfoot facing him down.  Turn four he plays an Undead Warchief and attacks with the Withered Wretch only his opponent plays a Venser, Shaper Savant bouncing the Undead Warchief and Withered Wretch takes the iron-shod toes in the teeth.  Relying on pump creatures can always be risky, especially in a bounce or removal happy environment.

Undead Warchief

Strengths:  Large damage potential, effective removal suite

Weaknesses: slow board development, highly susceptible to bounce and removal 

That’s okay you say?  Black is better known for its control cards.  It packs better and cheaper removal than any other color.  Just take a look at Damnation or Tendrils of Corruption.  It has hand disruption in Stupor and the newly minted Thoughtseize.  This is certainly true.  A typical Black control deck looks a lot like this eighth place New Mexico States deck.

Mono-Black Discard

Mouth of Ronom
Scrying Sheets
14 Snow-Covered Swamp

22 Lands

Augur of Skulls
Hypnotic Specter
Oona's Prowler

16 Creatures

Coldsteel Heart
Grim Harvest
Loxodon Warhammer
The Rack

22 other spells


Nameless Inversion

15 sideboard cards


This is classic Black control that utilizes a smattering of board control to supplement the plethora of discard (hand control).  None of the creatures this deck is running are meant to be a win condition although any of them could do a pretty fair imitation if they happen to sporting the always trendy Loxodon Warhammer.  This deck’s main win condition is sometimes played on the first turn, namely The Rack. 

But, this deck also has inherint problems and weaknesses.  Chief of these is how to win the game if you simply do not draw The Rack or your opponent is running Disenchant/Naturalize cards.  Running twelve creatures with evasion certainly helps but none of them could be called beefy which can be problematic in an environment that features both Damnation and Wrath of God and is awash in effective removal. 

Secondly, more theoretically, is inherent problem with a discard strategy.  It is impossible to lock down an opponent completely because most discard is done at sorcery speed or during a specific phase leaving your opponent free to topdeck and play answers as they show up.  A topdecked and cast Plover Knights can practically hold off this entire deck leaving you scrambling to dig out a Shriekmaw. 

Strengths: Lots of hand disruption, evasion creatures, The Rack can be hard to remove

Weaknesses:  One dimensional win condition, lack of beef

The Rack

Neither of these decks burned up GP:Krakow or have made any waves since States.  Arguably they may rest solidly within tier two and can make good showings because most of the field is unprepared for them.  Does mono-Black have the tools to make a dominate deck?  Should Black be delegated to a strong support role, or removal splash?


Other mono-builds have done well in the metagame.  Mono-Red builds use burn and super-efficient creatures to give them the reach needed to bring an opponent from twenty to zero.  Black doesn’t have enough spells like Consume Spirit that target a player or low cost, efficient creatures to make an aggro strategy viable.  This means any deck we do construct will have to be of a more controlling nature.

In regards to a full-on control strategy, Black has no real permission spells, short of Dash Hopes, and there seems to be a dearth of lock type combos, like Pickles or Mistbind Clique.  What black has in spades is removal.  The only problem is the innate flaw in this type of control.  Almost all of Black’s removal is of the one-for-one variety.  These are inefficient.  It can be effective but it creates no card advantage and card advantage is what wins games.  Also there are certain win conditions that can’t be removed by Black removal spells, for instance Sacred Mesa or The Rack, and creatures that sport the dreaded protection black, like Paladin en-Vec.  This means we are going to need to build a mid-range deck with efficient beaters and some type of disruption, whether of the discard variety or of the removal kind.


I don’t much like the discard strategy and not only for the reasons above.  Mainly it feels too all-in or bust.  Every card in your deck should be focused on discard and running anything but discard feels like loosing too much focus.  Some discard isn’t a bad idea but focusing on such a theme means a great deal of your deck space is used by it, making it again very one-dimensional.  The very worst thing a discard strategy wants to hear in a tournament report is something like, ‘He made me throw out a bunch of cards but I drew my (insert appropriate beater here) and it went unanswered for the win.’

Dash Hopes
Tendrils of Corruption

That leaves removal for our disruption but we have to be careful here as well.  We want to avoid or minimize our straight up one-for-one type like Tendrils of Corruption or Nameless Inversion.  These have a place and can be useful but they certainly don’t create the type of card advantage we are looking for. 


Finally our last goal for this deck should be kept first and foremost in our mind.  That goal is to remember this is Rogue Nation and we want to maximize the chances of phrases like the following be uttered, ‘You can’t maindeck that, its garbage’ just before said garbage kills them.  This might even be the highest goal, playing decks that fly under the radar and have the potential to win any game.  Doesn’t this mean your decks are always going to be intrinsically suboptimal?  Perhaps, but you might loose in competitiveness I believe you gain in the fun department and as everyone knows, Rogue Nation HQ is at #1 Fun Plaza, Funville, Funstakistan. 

So what does my Mono-Black build look like? 


Raspy Black

18  Snow-Covered Swamp
Scrying Sheets

22 lands

Nether Traitor
Hypnotic Specter
Nantuko Husk
Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
Gutless Ghoul

26 creatures

Grave Pact
Eyeblight's Ending
Loxodon Warhammer

12 other spells


Loxodon Warhammer
Pithing Needle
Sudden Death
Liliana Vess

15 sideboard cards

The entire deck revolves around the often maligned Grave Pact. It really is only viable in a mono build because of the horrendous casting cost but once it is on the board no creatures are safe. Troll Ascetic, to Stuffy Doll, to Mystic Enforcer are vulnerable and it solves the problem of pro-Black creatures and those with shroud. It also provides oodles of card advantage thanks to cards like Nether Traitor and Epochrasite. Both of those creatures hate remaining in the graveyard and can also provide a pump for Nantuko Husk. Shriekmaw’s evoke ability can provide an excellent two-for-one with Grave Pact as long as you stack the abilities correctly. Hypnotic Specter provides a little hand disruption and Korlash is the clean-up crew. The Scrying Sheets add at least a degree of card drawing. With the addition of the Gutless Ghoul there are twenty five Snow sources to fetch and it can often draw you out of a run of lands.

This deck should provide what we are looking for in a mono-Black build.  A more controlling game that uses Black's strong removal to control the board but also enough beef to get the job done.  It is important that this deck can kill in a number of different ways.  Loxodon Warhammer on a Korlah is almost always game over.  The Nantuko Husk/Nether Traitor engine can, with enough open mana, kill in one swing.  The Grave Pact can keep even superior creatures from attacking or making sure that every combat ends up unfavorably for your opponent.  That is the theory anyway, the actual practice may turn out much differently.

The Test Games
Blue White Blink
When the first card he played was Adarkar Wastes I knew I was in for trouble. Blink decks make it tough to A) kill anything effectively and B) get something onto the board to sacrifice to the Grave Pact. The first game I got a Warhammer and Grave Pact down but my Nether Traitor and Korlash were hit with Condemn on consecutive turns. The Nantuko Husk hit a Faerie Trickery and my Shriekmaw was Delay’d. All the while he was beating down with a Serra Avenger and then a Mulldrifter that he evoked and then Blinked. Nice trick. The second game was more of the same although this time he hit a Serra Avenger, a Stonecloaker, a Mulldrifter and I think I may have had a seizure in the middle from all the blinking because suddenly I was dead.
0-1 Matches 0-2 Games
Blue Black Control
A fairly standard Blue Black build that I at first though was a Teachings deck, but in two games I never saw any evidence of one. Nor did I see any evidence of my Grave Pacts. He evoked a Mulldrifter after I hit him for one with a Nether Traitor.  A quick pump Nantuko Husk, with the help of second Nether Traitor, managed to bring him down to nine. He used a Riftwing Cloudskate to bounce the Nantuko Husk and then a Vesuvan Shapeshifter to bounce the Husk and then a Venser, Shaper Savant to bounce the Husk. So I switched tactics laid down a ripped Loxodon Warhammer and let my Nether Traitors beat him down since he had no answers to the just-won’t-stay-in-f*&^*#!!-graveyard hasty shadow creature.
The second game took just as long but he brought in Faerie Trickery, undoubtedly to try and catch the Nether Traitors but I didn’t draw even a single copy. I Sudden Death’d a Shadowmage Infiltrator and chipped away with a Epochrasite. He managed to bounce a few things with the Riftwing Cloudskate and a Vesuvan Shapeshifter that he was able to Grim Harvest at least three times. A Hammer-endowed Epochrasite and then Nantuko Husk forced him into bad blocks and the trample damage eventually took the game.
1-1 Matches 2-2 Games
Blue White Blink
I play a second turn Nether Traitor and he suspends a Riftwing. Before the Cloudskate can resolve I have two Hypnotic Specters and a Loxodon Warhammer on the board. He chooses to bounce the Warhammer and doesn’t attack with the hasty creature. A Shriekmaw puts the flying blocker into the graveyard and the Hypnotic Specters rip apart his hand despite triple Mulldrifter. He wraths the board with a topdecked Wrath of God but he is down to five life which is quickly reduced by a Epochrasite and a Nantuko Husk.
The second  game played out much differently. As a note I did not play or show the Grave Pact in the first game and it won the game when it showed up in the second. He couldn’t keep a creature on the board and a single Nantuko Husk using a Nether Traitor and two Epochrasite to pump/kill his creatures. I was glad to take both these games in a matchup that isn’t favorable to the mono-Black.
2-1 Matches, 4-2 Games
Four Color Elementals
At first I had no idea what deck he was playing since he played a Vivid Grove to start and followed with a Llanowar Wastes. When Smokebraider hit the table, lets just say the fog began to lift. I managed to get out Gutless Ghoul, Epochrasite and a Scrying Sheets while he Championed his Smokebraider with Nova Chaser. He took me down to tweleve but Gutless Ghoul, in a uncharacteristic act of bravery, sacrificed himself as a chump block to kill the Elemental Warrior. I followed with a Shriekmaw to clear the Smoke’ once and for all but he played a Makeshift Mannequin on his Nova Chaser to make sure it didn’t die and place a nifty 10/2 Trampler into play. He got me down to four life before I could stabilize behind a Nether Traitor, a Nantuko Husk and a Grave Pact which took me all the way in for the win.
The second game was a blowout despite him siding in Extirpate which he promptly used to remove all the Nether Traitors from my deck. Once bitten…as the saying goes. Still a fourth turn Korlash drew some good natured ribbing about my cute 4/4 when he promptly laid down a Spectral Force – ‘what ya mean he is Elemental too?’. But a fifth swamp made the Heir to Blackbade 5/5 and a Loxodon Warhammer meant the regenerating swamp lover was in good racing form. He went the distance.
3-1 Matches, 6-2 Games
The game ended on turn nine and I only played the two lands I had in the opening hand. Still I managed to hold off death for quite awhile by using three Shriekmaws and an Epochrasite that kept getting bounced.
The second game took much longer with me killing multiple Silvergill Adepts and Lord of Atlantis. He finally got some damage through when he had used two Unstable Mutation. One was given to a Silvergill Adept that I let through once before killing with a newly beefed up Epochrasite and the second on a Faerie Conclave. A couple of more damage from a third Silvergill thanks to a Coral Trickster and he burned me out with double Psionic Blast he was holding.
3-2 Matches, 6-4 Games
Turn one Greater Gargadon cracks a groan from me, I somehow always manage to play this match wrong dating all the way back to Time Spiral Block. He plays out the usual suspects of Mogg War Marshal but has Mad Auntie to back it up and Goblin Harbinger to fetch Siege-Gang Commander. I manage to stay in the game and keep a fairly good life count thanks to some Damnations and Shriekmaws. The big elephant gets me down to three life but a Damnation resets the board again. I finally die when a second Siege-Gang Commander shows up and I only have a lone Epochrasite on the board despite ‘mawin’ the Commander itself.
The second game saw me overrunning him with a Loxodon Warhammer enhanced Nether Traitor after he spent three cards, two Tarfires and a Incinerate to keep Korlash from taking up the Hammer and winning the game out right. Still he was out of gas and a couple of turns later it was over.
The third game saw another first turn Gargadon and this one hit the table as well only to die to a Shriekmaw a turn later. I was down to seven life but my Epochrasite unsuspended after spending some time in purgatory for blocking a Goblin token and again the Loxodon Warhammer won the game.
I think this game perfectly highlights the fact that this deck doesn’t need Grave Pact to win, its just a lot easier.
4-2 Matches, 8-5 Games
The first game was blowout that had me wishing like a seventeen year old at the beer store for Damnation that I never saw. He played two Birds of Paradise, two Llanowar Elves and then right into a Spectral Force. I never saw a Shriekmaw or Damnation while he played a Loxodon Warhammer and then double Might of Old Krosa earning the 19/16 Trampler the game.
The next game was won by Grave Pact as I drew the perfect hand of Nantuko Husk, Nether Traitor, Grave Pact, Epochrasite and three Swamps. I easily dispatched all his acceleration and then when the second Nether Traitor showed up he was locked out of playing any creatures.
The last game was unexciting except for the brilliant move of naming Birds of Paradise for the Pithing Needle. Seemed like a good idea at the time, whats that you say? Mana source? Yea. Brilliant. At any rate, I kept his board clear without even seeing the Grave Pact for which he had three neat little Naturalize in his hand when he finally died to my Korlash.
5-2 Matches, 8-5 Games
I only saw two lands the first game but still managed to Shriekmaw a Wren’s Run Vanquisher and hold out with an Epochrasite until Wren’s Run Packmaster finally beat me into the ground.
The second game was decided by Damnation when he played all the Elves he had in hand against my Epochrasite and Hypnotic Specter. He drew nothing after the black Wrath of God and a returning Epochrasite followed by a topdecked Korlash sealed the win.
The third game was much closer but was decided because my opponent had likely never seen the Nantuko Husk/double Nether Traitor combo. I had five swamps untapped bringing the Nantuko to a 12/12 beater when he didn’t block with a Masked Admirer. The Nantuko died the next turn to an Eyeblight’s Ending but it was too much to recover from despite playing a Garruk Wildspeaker and a handful of other elves. He died to successive Nether Traitor beatings.
6-2 Matches, 10-6 Games
U/R Bounce
This was a deck I had never encountered before but featured a lot of bounce from Boomerang to Riftwing Cloudskate to Stingscourger and even some Threaten thrown in. He cast a turn two Keldon Marauders and followed it with a Stingscourger for my Hypnotic Specter. He couldn’t pay the echo for it but left me at fifeteen life. The Hypnotic came back down and he cast Looter il-Kor and gave it Unstable Mutation and then Threaten on my Hyppie. I had to toss a Swamp and was sitting at nine life. Fortunately I managed to squeak in a Grave Pact and a Loxodon Warhammer by now and a rapidly shrinking Looter was no match for gaining five life a swing with Hypnotic Specter wielding the Hammer. When an Epochrasite and a Nantuko Husk hit the table he scooped.
He started with a Sage Owl that quickly found itself mutating, unstably. I got down an Epochrasite which was bounced by a Dead/Gone. On his turn he cast a couple of Ancestral Visions and I cast a Warhammer followed by the tired-of-being-bounced Epochrasite. He bounced the Epochrasite again and I played a Nether Traitor and equipped it with the ‘Hammer. I swung in getting my life back into a much healthier range since the Sage Owl kept swinging for damage until it finally was killed by some genetic fault. He kept on casting, this time a Flying Men and then a Riftwing Cloudskate to bounce the Loxodon Warhammer. Despite this setback the game never felt out of control even though he played a Teferi at the end of my next turn and a Riftwing for the re-Hammered Nether Traitor.   With nothing on my side of the board I was looking at three Flying Men, a Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, and a Riftwing Cloudskate, which all disappeared in the blink of an eye when I cast Damnation. The Nether Traitor and Epochrasite representin’ for all the 1/1’s out there finished him off.
7-2 Matches, 12-6 Games
Sonic Boom
This game has almost nothing interesting to tell, but I consider any deck with more than twenty counterspells extremely boring to play against and not only because this deck rolls over to it.  Raspy Black does not have enough quick spells to break through the counterspell wall and if it does manage to get something on the board it is usually bounced fairly quickly.  The matchup is extremely unfavourable, probably in the five or ten percent win range and I cannot see anyway for a mono-Black deck to improve the situation.  Sudden Spoiling would absolutely wreck Sonic Boom but there is rarely enough men on the board to capitalize.
7-3 Matches, 12-8 Games
As an aside, I stopped my testing at ten games for two reasons.  The first was the space restraints and the second was because I did most of the testing before Terry Soh at TCGplayer.com released his article.  Before the article, I didn't see any Sonic Boom decks.  After the article, everyone, including their grandmother, sister, babysitter and even the family dog is playing it.  I played Sonic Boom no less than six times in a row during one testing run in the Tourney Practice Rooms.  SIX times!  See Game ten for a recap of Games eleven through fifeteen.
Seven and three isn't a bad record.  This deck can dominate any deck that doesn’t use a heavy amount of counterspells.  As I said above it is extremely unfavorable to Sonic Boom and even the Blink decks are very tough to beat and almost solely dependant on how many Momentary Blinks they find.  Against aggro based decks it can beat anything that is out there and not only if you draw Grave Pact which I was pleasantly surprised to find.  The Nether Traitor is the heart and soul of this deck. He might as well have unblockable written on the card because of the shadow feature and only Extirpate can really keep him down. At least a third, perhaps closer to half of all the games I’ve played with this deck are decided by Nantuko Husk and Nether Traitor with the Grave Pact playing a large role. 
Which brings me to what I might change for the future. The Gutless Ghouls just don’t seem right, the idea of another sac outlet is sound and the life gain is nothing to sniff at but Nantuko Husk does the job with so much more style. I think I would replace them with Profane Command to give some reach and some graveyard recursion. Its versatility is appealing. Phyrexian Ironfoot may find a spot to keep an adequate level of snow permanents for the Scrying Sheets. Speaking of which I would move down to three as drawing all four is tedious and actually detrimental to Korlash.   
But now, its future is in your hands.  Go to the forums and take the poll that you find here.  The results will decide exactly what we do with this deck.  Should it go for a run at the 8-man's?  A PE?  The junkpile?  Sound off by following the link and answering the poll.  If you have an idea for a deck you want to see built feel free to drop me a line, Rogue Nation is always looking for something new.



Good Article! by jamuraa at Tue, 12/04/2007 - 16:34
jamuraa's picture

Good article about a deck type that you don't see much in the tourney practice rooms or at the 8mans or PEs.  It's too bad about the Sonic Boom matchup however, as it's getting a lot of play recently.  I would be interested in a matchup against Pickles, since it is similar but doesn't have the same counter wall that Boom has.

Also - the matchup in Game 2 sounds like the opponent was running Mannequin.dec variant to me.  They just love evoking their mulldrifters.

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dungdung's picture

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