Carrie On – Beating Mono-Black: The Return of The Aristocrats

I had a glance at the SCG Open event Top 8 from this weekend. In summary: Black Devotion still seems to be the deck to beat. They’ve moved away from the white splash to green after the long awaited printing of Temple of Malady. This gives access to Abrupt Decay—as if they needed better removal.

I still hope Standard will change and this is just typical laziness, but rather than sitting and complaining about it I thought I should probably try to help move the meta along.

At the moment I feel like Standard is at a similar point that it got to when Delver was available. It was the best deck; it had so much flexibility and versatility. It made such a scarily dominant deck. One day I got bored of it, that’s when I brewed up Dungrove Elder green and kicked Delver-butt all day long to win a WMCQ. So, I want to design a deck to beat Black Devotion.

There are some decks that already do this. Notably this week’s SCG was itself won by R/W Burn. R/W Burn is designed to beat Black Devotion as it doesn’t rely on permanents to win and Thoughtseize just helps them out. However, I just don’t want to play this deck. It’s a little too draw dependent and linear for my liking.

So, what does Black Devotion hate?

The first card that came to my mind was Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Toward the end of pre-JOU Standard Black Devotion was in fact running this card itself as a trump in the mirror matchup.

But what to do with it?

As you may remember I was playing with Bant midrange pre-JOU. I really enjoyed it but it wasn’t quite top tier. Its worse matchup was Black Devotion, which is why I feel it never really broke through. However, it did have some tools which cause the black deck to struggle. Voice of Resurgence doesn’t make their 1-for-1 removal happy, and Elspeth can keep Desecration Demon tapped forever. Playing Bant has also given me a passion for midrange value so I thought about making a Junk midrange with a focus on beating the dominant deck.

What else can we play to upset Black Devotion?

 

Once decided on Junk, it reminded me of my excitement about the possibility of Aristocrats coming back into Standard. Nothing is going to annoy Black Devotion more than Cartel Aristocrat and Varolz. They work well with Voice of Resurgence as you keep getting reloads on creatures to protect them with. This wears out Black Devotion’s resources while applying a level of pressure they can’t really cope with.

I also wanted to keep Courser of Kruphix from the Bant list, as that card is amazing. It doesn’t specifically hurt Black Devotion other than to be a source of card advantage. But the card is awesome and I am hoping the list will be able to face up against other decks too.

I decided to also keep the Sylvan Caryatids, as they provide great fixing, and Elvish Mystics for that little extra ramp that I found the Bant deck wanted. With a few slots to play with I initially sleeved up this, a deck to destroy the hope and dreams of Black Devotion players everywhere—Take I:

I put Abrupt Decay and Hero’s Downfall in as my choices of removal. I also considered Banishing Light but there shouldn’t be much Decay and Downfall can’t handle—plus, the whole point of the maindeck setup is to beat the new green flavor of Black Devotion, so putting in some spells which are inherently weak to Abrupt Decay seems like a poor plan.

For the last three slots you’ll notice I put in one each of Reaper of the Wilds, Athreos, God of Passage, and Pharika, God of Affliction. This was not intended to be the final build but a test run and I considered each for the deck.

Pharika and Athreos could both pose problems for black decks. Pharika lets you continually reuse creatures which is bound to annoy them—it acts as a mini-Elspeth for their Desecration Demon and neatly stalls Pack Rat long enough for your Blood Baron or Elspeth to come along and solve the problem more comfortably. There is a slight conflict of interest between Pharika and Varolz to consider, and it’s also unlikely she will become “a real boy” in this three-color deck—although not impossible as the dominant permanent colors are green and black.

Athreos lets you reuse creatures in a different manner. Either by causing your opponent more pain or by letting you get them back. Athreos is even less likely to become a creature than Pharika but the ability fits in better with the recursive theme.

Reaper of the Wilds is a card I’ve always had an interest in. It actually made my Top 5 lists in my article on powerful cards yet to see serious play in Constructed which I wrote a few weeks back. Reaper provides some additional value when you have to sacrifice creatures for one reason or another, and as I’m sure you’ve all come to realize by now scrying is ridiculously strong! As long as you can keep 1G open then Reaper is yet another annoyance that Black Devotion does not have the resources to handle.

I couldn’t decide which of these would be best theoretically, so I put in one of each in and tried them all out.

I did consider putting Thoughtseize in the deck but actually you have a lot of plays in the early turns. From experience with Bant you want to spend the first turn playing a scry land or a Mystic and after that you have a ton of two- and three-drops to keep you busy. I expect by the time I have mana free to use Thoughtseize it would only be relevant against control decks making it a good sideboard card but not worthy of a main deck slot.

So how does it play against Black Devotion?

First point: this deck is fun!

This point gets ignored by people so often. Looking for the best deck rather than what they enjoy playing. I’ve never won a tournament playing a deck I didn’t love playing. So I know this point is important for me.

Another thing I learned in testing was that Reaper of the Wilds is sweet in the deck. I waited until I had 6 mana and then it would just win the game. The card selection it provided worked so well with the rest of the deck, and it’s a great beater when you have established control of the board. After just one game with it in play, I wanted more copies in the deck.

Athreos, on the other hand, did nothing. Maybe it was the particular draw I had, but unlike Reaper I found he added nothing to my board state. I think he suits a more aggressive deck where you have already applied plenty of early pressure to make Athreos a more lose-lose situation for the opponent. I didn’t want Athreos in my hand or in play so I cut him.

Pharika turned out to be good against Black Devotion. The ability to make tokens did in fact frustrate my opponent. I got to trade easily with Pack Rats and had a ready supply of creatures to stop Desecration Demon getting to me. The conflict with Varolz was less of an issue than I feared. With current Mono-Black lists focusing their main deck more on spot-removal than actual sweepers such as Drown in Sorrow, it felt correct to build a wide board rather than to scavenge onto one threat and make it huge.

Elvish Mystic turned out to not really be what I wanted. Unlike Bant this deck is less concerned about reaching a large amount of mana and the Mystic just wasn’t that relevant.

I wanted to go up to three copies each of Pharika and Reaper of the Wild. Cutting Athreos and two Mystics left me needing one more slot. For the final cut I went down by one Abrupt Decay as I wasn’t enamored with them. I would probably board the third.

Here is my current list:

A deck to destroy the hope and dreams of Black Devotion players everywhere—Take II:

I played maybe a dozen games against Black Devotion and this deck made them very, very sad. Every card is a challenge for them. The deck also synergizes really well. If you are fed up with playing against Black Devotion I would try this out, with the caveat that I have no idea how it works against other decks currently in Standard.

One last thought I had about the deck after testing the Take II version was that Sylvan Caryatid didn’t seem that relevant. Quite often I didn’t get it out on turn 2 as I had other, higher priority creatures to play out and no real reason to ramp. The mana seems to be fine, so the fixing it provides probably isn’t valuable enough either. I don’t really know what to replace it with. Maybe Loxodon Smiter? Put one of the Abrupt Decays back? You have to be careful not to raise the curve though, otherwise you’ll be wanting the Caryatids back again.

Sideboard options:

* Mistcutter Hydra – probably essential as a 3- or 4-of against Mono-U and control.

* Thoughtseize, Duress, and/or Sin Collector – Thoughtseize is likely mandatory in the sideboard, but the other two options should be considered as well for control-heavy metagames.

* Archangel of Thune – May not be necessary as you already have Blood Baron of Life Gain against aggro/burn but certainly worthy of consideration. Blood Baron is certainly not at his best when facing down a Polukranos or some other big ground beater, so taking to the air seems great. And, as is always worth mentioning, the interaction with Courser of Kruphix is amazing.

* Pithing Needle – I can’t imagine running a sideboard without two copies of this in Standard at the moment. There are so many relevant things to name.

* Last Breath/Doom Blade/Ultimate Price/Reprisal – Some additional pieces of spot removal could be very useful against the RG Monsters/weenie aggro decks. Pick your poison from any number of 2-mana kill-stuff-til-it’s-dead instants!

Those are the card that spring immediately to mind, but experiment with others

Anyway there is my brew for the week. If you get to play with it let me know on Twitter (@onionpixie) how it went. What worked, what didn’t work, what are the other matchups like? I hope to play it myself sometime soon to get a better sense of its place in the metagame. Until next week, take care.

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