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Nonblue control decks are rare in Magic. Blue has access to the best—or at least the most direct—sources of card drawing, as well as the all-important permission spells. It requires a rare set of cards and circumstances for nonblue control to be a viable option.
Mono-Black Control in particular is an archetype that’s beloved by long-time fans of the game. Perhaps the fact that it only resurfaces every once in a long while is what makes it so special. It’s fitting that Magic’s long awaited return to Dominaria should come with a long awaited revival of Mono-Black Control.
Several ingredients are required before MBC can be on the menu.
First, there needs to be a payoff for staying mono-color. Otherwise, you would gravitate towards some multicolor combination like U/B, which is particularly appealing in today’s Standard with The Scarab God being such a strong win condition.
Cabal Stronghold is slightly less powerful than Cabal Coffers, since the additional mana to activate requires you to have more Swamps (five to be precise) before you can turn a profit. But the risk is also less because it can tap for colorless mana. This means land-light hands or ones with multiple Cabal Strongholds can still be functional.
Dread Shade, like the old Nantuko Shade, is a powerful creature, a payoff for staying mono-color, and a mana sink for Cabal Stronghold. Dread Shade can kill amazingly fast once you’ve taken your opponent apart with discard and removal spells.
Good discard spells are another key ingredient for mono-black. Control decks need to have robust disruption that’s applicable in a wide variety of situations, which is exactly why permission spells tend to be so important. But Duress is among the strongest discard spells ever printed, and Divest looks to be useful as well. Divest will hit often enough that it’s a strong consideration for the main deck. Combine that with the fact that it remains potent after sideboarding against blue control decks with Torrential Gearhulk and The Scarab God, and you have something to be excited about.
Next, you need plenty of card advantage. Hopefully, some of it will come directly in the form of drawing more cards. Thankfully, Standard lets you choose between Arguel’s Blood Fast, Sunset Pyramid, Treasure Map, and even a few other options like Midnight Oil and The Immortal Sun. These permanent-based card drawing engines are very effective and pair amazingly with Duress as a way to shred blue control decks.
Last, but certainly not least, you need an effective win condition. Since you can’t lock up the game with counterspells, you can’t rely on a single threat or two to get the job done. Thankfully, the combination of Dread Shade, Rite of Belzenlok, Gonti, Lord of Luxury, and a smattering of others give you access to powerful and reliable win conditions that generate card advantage and are strong in both the midgame and the late game.
Rite of Belzenlok is one of my favorite cards from Dominaria. 4 mana to generate five creatures is a great rate, and when you consider that one of those creatures is a 6/6 flying trampler, you have something very special.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of mono-black is the variety of excellent removal that’s available. Vraska’s Contempt is one of the most important cards in Standard, and being able to cleanly answer anything from a Rekindling Phoenix to The Scarab God to Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is incredibly valuable. Never // Return rounds out the answers to planeswalkers while Battle at the Bridge and Vicious Offering round out the answers to the indestructible Gods. Vicious Offering, by the way, is a fantastic pairing with Rite of Belzenlok while Battle at the Bridge is a payoff for your Cabal Stronghold mana.
Phyrexian Scriptures is a powerful new board sweeper from Dominaria, and it fits perfectly with single potent creatures like Dread Shade, which can be turned into artifacts and saved from certain doom. Phyrexian Scriptures and Tetzimoc, Primal Death are great ways to punish opposing midrange decks like those based around Winding Constrictor.
Razaketh’s Rite is a card that’s always interested me for a deck like this one. It’s an amazing topdeck in the late game when you have access to a lot of mana. It can find you a board sweeper, a Vraska’s Contempt, or a source of card advantage. And it offers all that at virtually no cost, as it can be cycled to hit your land drops in the early game, or any time that you won’t be able to invest in the full mana cost.
A final main-deck card to mention is The Immortal Sun, which I believe is an excellent fit for this particular take on Mono-Black Control. The legendary artifact has four abilities, and all of them pull a lot of weight here. It shuts down all planeswalkers, of which my recommended deck list has none. (A couple copies of Liliana, Death’s Majesty are a fine consideration, but I believe The Immortal Sun is better for the same role.) Casting multiple spells in the same turn can be great when you’re tutoring, Gonti-ing, or drawing extra cards. The +1/+1 clause makes your Cleric tokens from Rite of Belzenlok into relevant threats. And, of course, drawing an extra card ensures that you’ll run away with the game after just a few turns.
The sideboard features one additional Phyrexian Scriptures for those medium-speed opponents, and the other fourteen cards are divided between three jobs: beating fast aggro, beating control, and beating God-Pharaoh’s Gift.
Sorcerous Spyglass and Dispossess should be getting a lot of traction with the breakout of the U/R Gate to the Afterlife-plus-God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck. Stripping their combo and annihilating their creatures ought to be an easy recipe for beating them in post-sideboard games. I’d normally expect an artifact-based combo deck to be a nightmare matchup, but the fact that these tools exist keeps alive the dream for Mono-Black Control to be a real contender.
Keep in mind that this is just a starting place. The pool of strong black cards in Standard is very deep, and there are a lot of directions you could take the archetype.
Maybe using Liliana, Death’s Majesty to return value creatures is a better angle than using Sagas and other noncreature threats?
Among plenty of unanswered questions, the one thing that’s clear is that Dominaria offers a lot to revive the archetype of Black Control. If that’s the type of Magic that appeals to you, then don’t be afraid to dive in.