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Breaking Through – Aggro is the New Black

Mono-Black has gone from being underappreciated at the last Pro Tour in Dublin to eventually being considered the best deck in Standard. Now that the cat is out of the bag, thousands of players around the world have gone through the process of improving Mono-Black to a refined and polished machine. Exploring Mono-Black further would be a task difficult to find fruitful, as so many of the options have already been tested and dismissed, or else incorporated into the deck as we know it today.

But as we all know, colors in Magic are pretty deep. With an entire Standard format worth of cards, it is easy to see that the same color can support different types of decks, even if it doesn’t reach outside of its own color to do so.

I think this has been pretty evident with red decks over the last year or so. While big red or red devotion decks have had the majority of the success, faster red decks have continued to exist. One deck wants to throw small creatures and burn at the opponent while the other deck is abusing [ccProd]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Purphoros, God of the Forge[/ccProd]. Again, there is some overlap, but the decks are unique. Mono-Blue, on the other hand, is a color that doesn’t support multiple mono-color decks because its tools either all fit into the existing mono-blue shell, or they work better when paired with tools from other colors, such as sweepers or [ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd].

That all leads us back to black. Mono-Black in Standard began as a much more controlling deck than it is now. While I would still classify it as a control deck, [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] coupled with both [ccProd]Desecration Demon[/ccProd] as well as [ccProd]Gray Merchant[/ccProd] gives the deck some aggressive draws. I wanted to extrapolate on that and explore what black might do in an aggressive deck.

Recently, black has been used in aggressive shells, usually coupled with white, due to a few niche cards. Notably, [ccProd]Xathrid Necromancer[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Cartel Aristocrat[/ccProd] made for some fun synergy that turns out to be pretty powerful as well. But what if black were to drop the baggage of other colors?

Prior to Born of the Gods, I don’t know if black had the depth in its card pool to really piece together a mono-black aggressive deck that could stand up to other decks in Standard. I have seen some people try however. This list saw some play during Grand Prix Vancouver and is an interesting take on what these decks could look like:

[ccdeck=”Main Deck”] 4 Agent of the Fates
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Nighthowler
4 Pack Rat
4 Tormented Hero
3 Gift of Orzhova
2 Hero’s Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
3 Underworld Connections
4 Wring Flesh
4 Mutavault
20 Swamp[/ccdeck] [ccdeck=”Sideboard”] 4 Dark Betrayal
4 Doom Blade
3 Duress
4 Pharika’s Cure[/ccdeck]

I think the idea here has a lot of potential and there are some cards in Born of the Gods that can really help out a strategy like this. While going into another color is still an option as well, being mono-black does help with both the mana base, as well as our devotion count, so for now, I will be focusing on all things black.

[ccProd]Bile Blight[/ccProd]

While this is a card that all mono-black decks will end up picking up, it does help an aggro deck quite a bit just due to how cheap it is, working with what we assume to be a lower land count.

[ccProd]Fate Unraveler[/ccProd]

This would show up toward the top of a curve in an aggro deck but it is a reasonable option to discuss. The body is not great, but does dodge a good chunk of the removal being played due to 4 toughness. If you are looking for a four-drop to negate a [ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd] life gain, you probably just want to stick to Erebos.

[ccProd]Herald of Torment[/ccProd]

Now we get into a good one. I am more than happy with just casting this on turn three and going to town. It dodges [ccProd]Drown in Sorrow[/ccProd], which is important because your one- and two-drops will not. Later on, this supplies some surprise damage and gets around sweepers, which is very important. Turning on heroic triggers is also quite relevant with both [ccProd]Tormented Hero[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Agent of Fates[/ccProd] being potential inclusions.

[ccProd]Marshmist Titan[/ccProd]

This is a card that is pretty exciting to me. Obvious nostalgia for [ccProd]Myr Enforcer[/ccProd] aside, this card leads to some extremely explosive openings that can win as early as turn 5, but his inconsistency might prove too fragile for the deck to handle. If you curve 1-drop into a BB two-drop, into [ccProd]Nightveil Specter[/ccProd], this costs you 1 mana on turn four. If you just cast a Nightveil Specter on turn three, you still have a 4/5 for four mana on turn 4, which isn’t bad given the split card at 1 mana. The issue is when this is stuck in your hand because it costs 6 or 7 mana.

In a perfect world, we can make this work, but I am not sure the conditions are quite there just yet.

[ccProd]Pain Seer[/ccProd]

The two-drop slot is one of the rougher ones to fill right now in mono-black. Basically, you have [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd], which is good in aggro and control alike, and then the rest of your two mana offerings are pretty mediocre. [ccProd]Blood Scrivener[/ccProd] is worth talking about and [ccProd]Rakdos Shred-Freak[/ccProd] is double black, but those aren’t much. Pain Seer is at least another card to add to the conversation. Its ability to draw you cards is not the most reliable, but at the cost of a good chunk of life, you probably only want to draw one or two cards off this guy anyway until potential Gray Merchants get online later on down the road.

If nothing else, this is certainly a tool that some decks will look to take advantage of. Perhaps B/W Humans is where he would fit in best with a [ccProd]Xathrid Necromancer[/ccProd] to back him up.

[ccProd]Spiteful Returned[/ccProd]

As we just discussed, two-drops are ever so desired in an aggressive black shell right now. You may have read this guy a thousand times by now without considering him for Constructed, but I think it has a legitimate shot. The ability on this makes it act like more of a 3/1. Sure, it can’t trade in combat the way that a 3/1 can, but the direct loss of life also happens regardless of whether a block is available or not, so the downsides are met with alternative upsides.

Once we get past how good he is on his own though, we can also take into account his bestow. Four mana is expensive for the effect, but the fact that it is an option in late game situations when you have the mana is a huge boost to the card. A two-drop with relevant late game abilities is nice.

The Search Continues…

Of course, it is easy to get caught up staring at the new toys you just got. We need to be diligent and make sure that older cards, ones that we might have previously taken for granted, don’t continue to get swept under the rug here. I went through and listed some of the cards that seemed like they might fit into this type of strategy. Some of these are better than others, but this gives us a little wider view of our options.

[ccdeck]Agent of Fates
Tormented Hero
Blood Scrivener
Cryptborn Horror
Lifebane Zombie
Desecration Demon
Fate Unraveler
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Herald of Torment
Marshmist Titan
Mogis’s Marauder
Nighthowler
Nightveil Specter
Pack Rat
Pain Seer
Rakdos Cackler
Spiteful Returned
Xathrid Necromancer
Erebos, God of the Dead
Liliana of the Dark Realms
Thoughtseize
Ultimate Price
Bile Blight
Hero’s Downfall
Corrupt
Read the Bones
Underworld Connections
Whip of Erebos
Boon of Erebos
Dark Prophecy
Gift of Orzhova
Toil Trouble[/ccdeck]

After looking through that list a few times, the list I arrived at was pretty straightforward. There were actually too many cards to fit into the deck, which is a good sign because it means we have some wiggle room, but it also means a little more testing has to go into the deck to make sure you are playing the correct 75. I found myself drawn to [ccProd]Marshmist Titan[/ccProd] quite a bit during this process, for example, although that is almost certainly due to his being new and shiny. He has a big dream, but can I really justify leaving out Gray Merchant for him? Probably not, but I started there anyway.

[ccDeck]4 Tormented Hero
3 Rakdos Cackler
4 Pack Rat
4 Spiteful Returned
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Herald of Torment
3 Desecration Demon
4 Marshmist Titan
4 Thoughtseize
3 Hero’s Downfall
4 Mutavault
19 Swamp[/ccDeck]

I like that [ccProd]Gray Merchant[/ccProd] offsets a lot of the damage that the deck can do to itself through cards like [ccProd]Pain Seer[/ccProd], [ccProd]Underworld Connections[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Herald of Torment[/ccProd]. Gray Merchant is such a reliable and powerful card, especially in races. You probably just want to avoid the extra inconsistency added from Marshmist Giant and play the reliable drain effect, but maybe there is enough room for both? Because they both tend to top your curve, it is tough to justify both, but until Born of the Gods hits Magic Online I am not likely to get enough reps in with the deck to know for sure.

I looked into some options to address the issue with the lack of power level in the two-drop department. I managed to find a few cards that could work into the deck while still providing some black devotion counts, but I am not sure any of them are worth the damage that would be done to your mana base. For reference, here are a few of the better options:

[ccprod]Lotleth Troll[/ccprod] [ccprod]Spike Jester[/ccprod] [ccprod]Cartel Aristocrat[/ccprod] [ccprod]Tymaret, the Murder King[/ccprod] [ccprod]Woodlot Crawler[/ccprod]

I also wonder just how much removal we need to have. With [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] providing a lot of our disruption for a convenient cost, do we need to do much more? Turning guys sideways puts the opponent under a lot of pressure and sort of generates removal through blocking. We clearly want something, as black has access to the best removal. Right now I have [ccProd]Hero’s Downfall[/ccProd] leading the charge with more removal options in the sideboard, but it could be that we want a few more slots dedicated to that purpose just so that we actually see them most games.

I will likely begin with that list above, subbing in Gray Merchant just to see what the power level is like. Marshmist Titan is a card I do not want to forget about, but let’s make sure our shell is strong enough to support it before weakening the entire thing from the onset.

[ccdeck=”Main Deck”] 4 Tormented Hero
3 Rakdos Cackler
4 Pack Rat
4 Spiteful Returned
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Herald of Torment
3 Desecration Demon
3 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Thoughtseize
3 Hero’s Downfall
4 Mutavault
20 Swamp[/ccdeck] [ccdeck=”Sideboard”] 2 Duress
3 Lifebane Zombie
3 Dark Betrayal
2 Bile Blight
3 Gift of Orzhova
2 Erebos, God of the Dead[/ccdeck]

Modern is still the center of my attention right now and will continue to be until the Pro Tour concludes, but this is definitely one of the decks I am excited about experimenting with once that happens. Until then, I am off to the beautiful city of Valencia. Last time I was in Spain I wandered the streets of Barcelona with no money nor idea how to get home… Here’s hoping this time around is just as awesome! Thanks for reading!

Conley Woods

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