Mono-Black Midrange | The Arena Boys

Throne of Eldraine has brought with it some powerful incentives to play mono-colored decks. A cycle of CCC cards, a cycle of powerful rare lands–these are the sorts of things that will, I imagine, be built upon once we return to Theros next year. For now, however, there are still plenty of reasons to explore the opportunities afforded us by these mono-colored cards.

All the CCC cards, with the exception of Linden, the Steadfast Queen, seem like very exciting cards to build around. We featured Yorvo in last week’s mono-green deck, and this time around, it’s time for Ayara, First of Locthwain, to take to the stage. Her abilities give you pretty clear instructions as to how to get the most out of her, and with that in mind, we built a grindy, creature-heavy midrange strategy that sacrifices creatures for fun and profit.

Ayara, First of Locthwain

Mono-Black Midrange

4 Witch's Cottage
1 Castle Locthwain
19 Swamp (339)
4 Sanitarium Skeleton
4 Gutterbones
4 Burglar Rat
2 Piper of the Swarm
2 Plaguecrafter
2 Midnight Reaper
2 Murderous Rider/Swift End
4 Dread Presence
3 Rankle, Master of Pranks
2 Cavalier of Night
1 God-Eternal Bontu
3 Ayara, First of Locthwain
1 Liliana, Dreadhorde General
2 The Cauldron of Eternity

Card Choices

Ayara, obviously, wants you to play a lot of black creatures. Happily, right now, there are an abundance of black creatures that also offer disruptive effects–Murderous Rider, Rankle, Master of Pranks, even the humble Burglar Rat! This means we don’t have to sacrifice too many slots to non-creature spells in order to stay interactive, which is perfect when rumbling with a card like Ayara.

Ayara isn’t the only centerpiece of the deck, however. Dread Presence is another card that offers strong rewards for playing mono-black, and the (almost) all-Swamp mana base means we’re getting the most out of this creature. We’ve played with it before, and I’ll say again what I said then: Dread Presence feels a lot like a planeswalker when it goes unanswered.

At the bottom of the curve, we have recursive one-drops to sacrifice to Ayara, along with Burglar Rat and Piper of the Swarm as a little value package. Murderous Rider and Plaguecrafter act as removal and are backed up at the top of the curve by Cavalier of Night and Rankle. Overall, it’s quite amazing how much interaction you can cram into a deck while still only playing creatures.

Speaking of which, we topped off the curve with a few huge noncreature mythics, and this, broadly speaking, was a mistake. This isn’t a Cauldron of Eternity deck–what are you going to reanimate, a Gutterbones? While it’s a sweet card, it definitely isn’t a good fit here. Liliana is a fine curve-topper, as her passive ability synergizes excellently with Ayara, but I think keeping the list as creature-heavy as possible is the best way to go.

Gameplay

As a midrange deck, you are looking to slow the game down, defend yourself from any early onslaughts, and eventually wrest control of the board from your opponent. While your creatures aren’t big, they will usually provide enough incremental value as a game progresses to pull yourself ahead. With that in mind, a lot of the time you just want to buy time until you can get this deck’s engine online.

Once you kick into gear, however, a lot of decks will have a hard time keeping up. A single Dread Presence means you’re drawing business every turn, while you can loop even a lowly Sanitarium Skeleton with Ayara to pull ahead on cards while slowly draining their life total. Combine this with your already value-laden creatures, and the long game is very likely to be yours.

This holds true against more controlling decks, too. Dread Presence and Ayara will still do good work in keeping you in the game, providing a steady stream of cards, and things like Witch’s Cottage mean you can rebuild from a sweeper. Rankle, Master of Pranks is perhaps the best way to punish slower decks, as he will shred their hand while providing a meaningful clock.

Moving Forward

We missed the mark a little bit when building this deck, and after having played with it both while making the video and afterwards, I can say with some confidence that some changes really do need to be made. On a conceptual level, this deck is great–I just don’t think we executed it as well as we could have.

Mono-Black Midrange

We make several key changes to improve and streamline what this deck is trying to do, removing some of the more flashy or experimental elements. Piper of the Swarm was underwhelming, as four mana for a 1/3 and a 1/1 just isn’t worth it, and so we remove the Rat package altogether. Instead we add Yarok’s Fenlurker–a better Burglar Rat–alongside Orzhov Enforcer. Not only will the Enforcer always trade with something relevant, but the Spirit it creates is also black for Ayara!

At the top end, gone is the Cauldron of Eternity and God-Eternal Bontu. Instead, we add an extra Liliana, Dreadhorde General and another Cavalier of Night. Liliana effectively counts as a creature for Ayara, as she can make a Zombie immediately, while Cavalier of Night’s lifelink ability is an important way to buffer our life total (which, between Rankle, Midnight Reaper, Murderous Rider, and Castle Locthwain, can sometimes get a little low).

Finally, Plaguecrafter also gets the chop–Murderous Rider is just the better card. Plaguecrafter can be more useful in some situations, granted, but there’s a reason Murderous Rider is seeing so much play at the top tables in Standard. It’s a stone-cold powerhouse, offering extremely efficient removal in conjunction with a modest threat.

Next week, we’re moving onto a viewer-submitted list, featuring Throne of Eldraine newcomer The Royal Scions in addition to an old reprint in Fling. See you then!

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