When it was announced that nothing would be banned in Pauper this time around, I got to work. Truth be told I was hoping that Gush would get the axe only to open up the metagame a little bit. As we now know, that was not the case. Given that the best decks were a known quantity I set about approaching the landscape.
Currently, Pauper rests atop two main pillars and two smaller ones. The main two are Gush and the monarch mechanic. The latter two are Tron decks and Quirion Ranger decks. The reason I divide these two is because given the weekend challenge results, Gush and monarch are miles ahead of everything else. Tron has been on a downward trend as of late. I decided to use this to my advantage.
Since there was nothing new to try, I returned to an old standby: Mono-Black Control. I love playing MBC in Pauper but it folds hard to Tron decks. But with Tron not nearly as popular as other strategies, I took a chance running a ton of Swamps. I was excited to give an old dog some new tricks thanks to Ultimate Masters.
See, Mono-Black Control had a few glaring holes. First it needed to run the correct removal suite for the metagame. When the field is less defined you run a greater risk of packing the wrong kill card, which can leave you with multiple slots dedicated to dead cards. The second problem is that because MBC has impact plays at 2 mana, 3 mana, 4 mana, 5 mana, and 7 mana, and to facilitate this it needs to run a ton of lands. The problem was that after turn 5 it was often left with a surplus of lands and didn’t have much to do except to flash back Chainer’s Edict. Even so it needed mana for things like Pestilence or to cast Sign in Blood and a threat in the same turn.
Compare this to other midrange decks in the format. Boros Monarch variants feature ways to get rid of excess lands via Faithless Looting (and in the past, Cenn’s Enlistment) while Tron decks have massive casting costs or Ghostly Flicker loops where they can sink excess mana. Gush decks want to operate on as few lands as possible and aside from Skred have very few ways to utilize an abundance of mana—those resources regularly go unspent. MBC needed to have this abundance but until Ultimate Masters had no reliable way to make use of the mana. Then came Dimir Guildmage.
Dimir Guildmage is a strong turn-2 play that is also a fine draw on turn 6. It makes use of the surplus, which gives MBC more action in the turns after it has taken control of a game. Usually, when both MBC and its opponent are topdecking, the midrange black deck tries to eke out a victory. Guildmage can not only strip an opponent of resources and options but it also, with an updated mana base, provides a steady flow of cards.
The inclusion of Guildmage meant rethinking the creature base of Mono-Black Control. It gave me a reason to examine Chittering Rats as a premier disruptive creature. For years the Rats served as the backbone of the deck, denying an opponent of resources while committing a threat (and two devotion for Gray Merchant of Asphodel) to the board. Over time the efficacy of Rats waned. In a format full of Gush and monarch denying one draw step has minimal impact. Chittering Rats is still a fine card in the context of a Ghostly Flicker lock, but beyond that I think its best days are in the rear view mirror.
My first attempt at the deck was fairly standard otherwise. Disfigure was my early removal of choice, backed up by Chainer’s Edict for larger threats and Pestilence for mop-up duty. Phyrexian Rager and Thorn of the Black Rose kept the cards flowing while two copies of Dimir Guildmage helped the cause. Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Gurmag Angler were the game-enders. I also included four copies of Cuombajj Witches.
The Witches have long been another staple of MBC. They add two pips of devotion while also being a solid defensive body. The real spice, as they say, is their reported ability to hold down Delver of Secrets and Spellstutter Sprite. Back before Delver decks had access to removal a resolved Cuombajj Witches could spell the end of the blue deck far easier than spelling the card’s name correctly on the first try. Of course these days Delver decks can and do run removal. So are Witches still necessary?
Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.
Chittering Rats and Cuombajj Witches are cut from the same cloth. They are long-time archetype staples that are no longer as powerful as they once were. I continue to run three copies of Witches in the sideboard since they are helpful against decks that pack plenty of small creatures, but when it comes to 2-drops I prefer Dimir Guildmage. As a concession to the fact that there are still plenty of decks running small creatures I opted for a single copy of Cabal Torturer main. While slow, I have been impressed with the card in the matchups where it matters.
The shift away from Witches meant I did need something to help shore up my early game. I wanted to run Tragic Slip over Disfigure but outside of Chainer’s Edict I did not have a reliable way to turn on morbid. With Witches leaving I was able to add Fume Spitter. Fume Spitter does a good job of answering Delver of Secrets and other turn-1 threats while also completely wrecking the Tireless Tribe combo. It has the added benefit of making it so your Gurmag Anglers will outclass theirs and transforms your 1-mana removal spell into Swords to Plowshares.
Guildmage MBC makes some concessions in the mana base. You want to be able to draw cards with the blue ability so Dismal Backwater and Dimir Aqueduct are musts. The latter has the added benefit of making Chainer’s Edict easier to cast. Being able to rebuy Bojuka Bog isn’t too bad either.
Here is where that leaves my current build on Mono-Black Control.
This is a midrange deck. It wants to keep parity early before sticking a card advantage engine: Guildmage, Thorn of the Black Rose, or Pestilence. Removal keeps the board clear and Gray Merchant keeps your life total high. The only matchups where I feel completely overmatched are Burn and Ghostly Flicker Tron decks, and out of those I feel that Burn is nigh-unwinnable.
Out on the Draw
Out on the Play
The game here is to choke Dimir Delver on resources. They have a minimal number of threats so the goal should be to exhaust them through removal. If given a clear opportunity to kill Delver of Secrets do so. Do not be afraid to stick a Thorn of the Black Rose in game 1 if you can protect the crown. Pestilence can end the game quickly if your life total is high enough. Once Guildmage is on the table you want to attack their hand. It might seem counter-intuitive since it will lead to Anglers but by denying them of cards in hand you make it harder for them to Foil. Wrench Mind follows the same principle—they need their cards in hand more than they need them in the graveyard. The other cards that come in are better removal spells for their threats—Stormbound Geist is a nuisance.
Boros Monarch (Metalcraft Version)
You do not want to be the first monarch in this matchup. Ideally you will want to take it back from them after establishing control of the skies. You want to keep your life total high here to prevent them from burning you out with Lightning Bolt and Galvanic Blast. This is a true attrition war and games will end when both players have an excess of mana. Dimir Guildmage is important here but you do not want to run it out early—hold it until you can get at least one activation. Reaping the Graves helps you reload in the middle stages if they have pointed burn spells at your creatures.
Boros Monarch (Token Version)
This is a much easier matchup than the midrange version. Use your board wipes to contain their threats—a resolved Pestilence is hard for them to overcome. Be on the lookout for Obsidian Acolyte and bring in Complete Disregard for Grasp of Darkness accordingly. Even if they surprise you with the Acolyte it is possible to get it off the battlefield by activating Pestilence or Crypt Rats in response to each granting of protection and then snipe it with a Chainer’s Edict. Again, you want to keep your life total high as they can steal wins with Rally the Peasants. But their creatures are far more fragile than those in the metalcraft build so your removal suite can put a hurt on their chances.
Unless things go horribly awry this matchup heavily favors MBC. They rely on creatures to function and we are filled to the brim with removal. The key is knowing which Elves are most dangerous. Early in the game I wouldn’t hesitate to pick off a Quirion Ranger or a Priest of Titania. After turn 2, Birchlore Rangers becomes a must-kill. Timberwatch Elf is dangerous but can be contained, as can Elvish Vanguard. I never worry about Wellwisher. Watch out for Spidersilk Armor as it can make Pestilence less of a lock. Some builds run Wrap in Vigor as additional sweeper insurance, so keep that in mind.
You want to keep their board empty of threats. This will often involve taking a few hits in order to set up Fume Spitter and Tragic Slip. You need to be wary of playing around both Vines of Vastwood and Hunger of the Howlpack. The most dangerous thing this deck can do to you is put +1/+1 counters on a Silhana Ledgewalker. Thankfully that creature has fallen out of favor.
Outside of the Ledgewalker, the scariest turn is the second if they manage to spit out two Burning-Tree Emissary and something else. Dodge that and you’re in the clear. Even if they have it you can still maneuver the game to your advantage.
Witches shines here as a way to pick off their Faeries. Just like Dimir Delver, you want to constrain their resources. Thorn of the Black Rose is a liability, so you want to hold off on casting it if at all possible unless you can ensure you keep the crown. Pestilence is the most important card in this pairing game 1 as they have trouble beating one on the board. After sideboarding you want to save Oubliette for Stormbound Geist and ride your board wipes to victory. Dimir Guildmage is great as it can keep the cards flowing to your hand while stripping them of resources when you enter topdeck mode.
Skred and Lightning Bolt mean that Cuombajj Witches are a liability, so ignore them for this pairing. Other than that the matchup is remarkably similar to the monochromatic version—Pestilence is a game-ender. Keep their side of the table empty and try to double up on impact cards. Do not hesitate to blow instant speed removal on their upkeep. It forces them to commit mana at an inopportune time and can delay their plans.
Tron (No Ghostly Flicker)
MBC has a chance against big mana Tron decks. Their end game is almost all creatures so time removal in a way that you can then hit them with Bojuka Bog. This stops Pulse of Murasa or Haunted Fengraf shenanigans. Thorn of the Black Rose on turn 4 can keep the cards flowing and put you up quite a bit, but Gray Merchant of Asphodel is what ends games.
Tron (Ghostly Flicker)
The Ghostly Flicker lock decks (Dinrova Horror or Stonehorn Dignitary loops with Ghostly Flicker and Mnemonic Wall) are much harder to beat. You have to race them to the endgame and hope they don’t have access to Flicker before you win. Again, Bojuka Bog is key in keeping their threats down. MBC is better against the Stonehorn Dignitary version since you do not need to attack to win. An early Dimir Guildmage helps a ton as it can pick apart their hand.
I’ve opted to include no land destruction in the sideboard of this build. Choking Sands is a common inclusion in MBC sideboards because it helps to delay Tron. In my experience, the turn spent on Choking Sands would be better spent doing just about anything else. Tron decks these days are built to withstand one or two Stone Rain effects, so unless you’re packing more than four I find it better to not pack any.
The worst matchup by far. Burn is just too fast most of the time. I used to run Duress in the Wrench Mind slot but moved it when I realized the bad Hymn to Tourach might be better against Burn. You want to chain creatures together and resolve a big Gray Merchant of Asphodel. All that said, if your opponent suspends Rift Bolt on turn 1 you have probably already lost.
Dimir Guildmage gives Mono-Black Control a new utility tool. The 2-drop is a two-way card advantage machine that fills a much needed role. While MBC might not be a top tier deck at the moment it has game against much of the field. More than that, it is fun to play and gives you the chance to try something slightly different. So go on and play Dimir Aqueduct—you know you want to.