This week I want to take a new look at the state of black. I recently wrote about a lower curve style of Mono-Black aggro that leaned heavily on [card]Tormented Hero[/card] and [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] to get in early beats. I talked about the deck here and never really got around to playing it in a big tournament, though I did believe it was a powerful strategy. The deck was fast and really consistent, but I eventually dismissed it as a result of a lack of overall power level.

[deck]Main Deck
4 Mutavault
20 Swamp
4 Desecration Demon
4 Lifebane Zombie
4 Pack Rat
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Thrill-Kill Assassin
4 Tormented Hero
4 Hero's Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
4 Ultimate Price
Sideboard
4 Dark Betrayal
3 Doom Blade
4 Duress
4 Nightveil Specter[/deck]

A card from Born of the Gods made me rethink this entire strategy: Herald of Torment. This card packs a serious punch for its cost and even without the ability to bestow probably warrants inclusion in this deck.

[draft]Herald of Torment[/draft]

[card]Herald of Torment[/card] is an incredible card, and in addition to all the things it does once you cast it, it also increases your devotion to black well. This deck doesn't currently have a strong use for devotion to black, but I'll get to that later.

The Herald is a little bit like a black [card]Boon Satyr[/card], with his three to cast and five to bestow costs, but what it lacks in flash it makes up for in flying. Black has never before had an effect like this and I'm pretty excited about it—it's pretty rare you're able to play a creature enchantment strategy that allows you to go over the top. Your cards are usually all so one-dimensional. The Herald can be played early in the game to help supplement your curve as well or until later in the game as a finisher. It reminds me a little of [card]Ajani, Caller of the Pride[/card] with the way that it can make a creature deal more damage and gain evasion out of nowhere. Not to mention the sick value gained from bestowing onto a [card]Tormented Hero[/card]!

[draft]Marshmist Titan[/draft]

The next card that drew my attention was [card]Marshmist Titan[/card]. I may be stretching my own imagination a little, but this card reminds me a lot of [card]Myr Enforcer[/card]. Now he can't ever be free, and lands won't reduce his cost, but no Magic card ever reduced the cost of Myr Enforcer by 2, let alone 3 like a [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] would. This card is really exciting to me as it provides a clear incentive to drive the cost down and devotion up for an aggressive black deck. If you control a Nykthos and you have this card in your hand almost every black symbol you have on the table is going to represent two mana. I also like how this card gears your deck in the direction of aggression while providing another threat, as well as the possibility of being a fast deck that aims to win with [card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card]. Red decks use [card]Fanatic of Mogis[/card], so why not?

[deck]Main Deck
4 Mutavault
21 Swamp
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
3 Marshmist Titan
4 Pack Rat
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Herald of Torment
4 Tormented Hero
4 Hero's Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
4 Bile Blight
Sideboard
4 Dark Betrayal
3 Doom Blade
4 Duress
4 Lifebane Zombie[/deck]

Here's what an updated version of the deck might look like. I'm a little concerned the deck may not have enough cheap creatures to support all the devotion going on in this deck, and I could easily see a list with stuff like [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] and [card]Rakdos Shred-Freak[/card] in the main deck to ensure more explosive devotion draws happen more consistently, but for now I like having all the best spells available.

[draft]thoughtseize
hero's downfall[/draft]

[card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Hero's Downfall[/card] are the bread and butter of any black deck and it should come as no surprise why I include four of both. They're just overpowered cards, not broken, but they work so efficiently that it's silly to ever consider not playing them. [card]Bile Blight[/card] will soon be joining this category of cards that if you play black you basically just must play because it's too powerful, flexible, and versatile not to. I've already written about how great [card]Bile Blight[/card] is, and if you've got a problem creature in the early turns of the game then Bile Blight will solve it. I'm having flashbacks to [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card] already.

[draft]Rakdos Cackler
Tormented Hero[/draft]

It's hard to play such a strong devotion strategy when you already make 12 spells mandatory, but I think there's still room to play some of the best devotion cards. [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] and [card]Tormented Hero[/card] are both really strong and worth including in any black-based aggressive deck. If there's one thing I've learned it's that any opener that starts with a one-drop into two one-drops in Standard is near unbeatable, and a huge reason to play an aggressive deck with one-casting-cost, 2-power creatures.

[draft]Pack Rat[/draft]

[card]Pack Rat[/card] is [card]Pack Rat[/card]. Honestly that's enough said and anyone who has played even a few games of standard knows the power level of this card already. It's shocking to me that nobody has successfully put Pack Rat into an aggressive deck yet since it's a cheap creature that plays well with [card]Mutavault[/card] and kills quickly. When I had played with this deck before I loved it for that reason, Pack Rat in an aggro shell plays much better than it does in a control deck, that said it doesn't matter because the control deck I put it in is already great and Pack Rat is super powerful that the meshing of strategies doesn't matter much. It's like discussing [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] in either Boros Aggro or Caw Blade, it's great no matter what. That said though if I'm playing black aggro then I'm playing 4 [card]Pack Rat[/card]s.

[draft]Pain Seer[/draft]

I considered playing [card]Pain Seer[/card] but eventually dismissed it, possibly wrongfully so. One of the main attractions to the deck are [card]Thoughtseize[/card], [card]Herald of Torment[/card], and [card]Marshmist Titan[/card], and I didn't like the prospect of playing many cards that already reduce my own life total low while also playing with 7-casting-cost spells. I'm sure a build of this deck that just runs 4 [card]Pain Seer[/card]s over 3 [card]Marshmist Titan[/card]s and 1 Swamp is totally acceptable and possibly even just straight-up optimal. A good Pain Seer build might look like this:

[deck]4 Mutavault
19 Swamp
4 Lifebane Zombie
4 Pain Seer
4 Pack Rat
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Herald of Torment
4 Tormented Hero
4 Hero's Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
4 Bile Blight
1 Ultimate Price
Sideboard
4 Dark Betrayal
4 Duress
3 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Doom Blade
2 Devour Flesh[/deck]

It's a little dangerous to play with a total of zero ways to gain life and so many cards that inflict damage on yourself, but with this build I tried to stay away from higher curve cards and just focus of the strategy of kill them as soon as possible and maximize to power of my cards by reducing the cost.

[draft]Xathrid Necromancer[/draft]

[card]Xathrid Necromancer[/card] is an option that has grown in popularity lately, and I must say it's a bit of a problem card for me when I play Mono-Black Control. My primary answer to it is [card]Thoughtseize[/card] or hope to ignore it since it is just a 2/2 creature for three mana. It can be hard to fully ignore since it makes [card]Devour Flesh[/card] so much worse than it normally is. Necromancer does very little in the devotion department, but as you can see in the most recent list, there aren't any devotion cards. Also, [card]Pain Seer[/card] is a Human which is incredibly convenient. The main purpose of [card]Xathrid Necromancer[/card] is to combat [card]Desecration Demon[/card] and [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and he does that very well.

Moving forward with Mono-Black Aggro I suggest picking a route and just going all-in on it. If you decide to try a devotion build then I fully support that and believe a deck like that can be great, but it requires strict attention to your curve. It's highly likely that you'll see yourself end up playing with [card]Nightveil Specter[/card], [card]Marshmist Titan[/card], and [card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card]. Possibly even [card]Rakdos Shred-Freak[/card] and [card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/card]. There is also the lower curve, Human-based route, which can play [card]Pain Seer[/card], [card]Xathrid Necromancer[/card], and even [card]Mogis's Marauder[/card].

One thing is 100% clear, you should be playing with [card]Herald of Torment[/card]. It's just way too powerful to ignore. It can act as a haste creature dealing damage the same turn it's bestowed as well as protection against [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], since it will come right into play ready to attack the same turn its host creature dies. Its stats are impressive on their own since it blocks every 2/2 creature from [card]Ash Zealot[/card] to [card]Precinct Captain[/card]. If there's one thing I've learned in this format, it's that the baseline toughness for a great blocker is 3, it can defend against almost every single one- and two-mana aggressive creature, including [card]Mutavault[/card], and live to talk about it. Any three toughness blocker needs to be removed immediately or it serves as a brick wall. This is one of the largest reasons why [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] is both popular and powerful. [card]Herald of Torment[/card] passes that test with flying colors.

I have spent a ton of time recently both writing and thinking about Mono-Black in all its flavors and one thing has become clear to me—it's simply the best. Black is the best color in Standard and it has the best options for threats and answers. It can't win on every metric, it doesn't have late game cards that can compare to [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card], and its one-mana options aren't as good as cards like [card]Soldier of the Pantheon[/card] or [card]Firedrinker Satyr[/card], but black is the most consistent and powerful deck there is by a wide margin. I've found that with a little prep work I can tune my black list to be favorable against any one matchup within reason. It's impossible to be favored against all matchups all the time, but it is relatively easy to predict the metagame within reason and prep for those decks.

I have long advocated for black decks in Standard and I have long advocated for aggressive decks as well, I see no reason why their day can't come again. Born of the Gods has given us a ton of new tools and I for one can't wait to start trying them out for myself. [card]Drown in Sorrow[/card] is scary of course, but with this build of black I have learned that it's a totally acceptable plan to just lean heavily on your 4 [card]Duress[/card]/4 [card]Thoughtseize[/card] to beat sweepers, I found my UW Control matchup hugely favorable, and that was one of the main reason I considered playing this deck. [card]Xathrid Necromancer[/card] is also a huge problem card for anyone trying to use the new [card]Infest[/card], and coincidentally many of the black creatures are Humans.

Owen Turtenwald
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