It's almost too good to be true.
I was prepared to be spending most of my October looking for a deck for States, assuming that I'd be starting over from scratch. After all, it had been a good eight months since I'd put any effort into playing a Standard deck besides Mono Black Control, and I knew that deck would be dead by the time Mirrodin rotated in.
But sometimes, I just love being wrong.
For over a year, Mono Black Control has been a deck dominated by Odyssey Block cards. From Torment's Cabal Coffers and to Odyssey's Haunting Echoes and Mirari, the deck has been loaded with cards that are on their way out of the Standard environment for good. To revive the black control archetype and make it playable in time for States 2003, Mirrodin needed two things:
The first was a new way of producing massive amounts of mana. Cabal Coffers was quite possibly the best card in the entire deck before Mirrodin came along; it made a deck full of costly spells like Visara the Dreadful, Corrupt, Haunting Echoes, Mind Sludge, and Mirari - all costing five mana or more - playable in a format that was full of aggressive decks. Without a way of overflowing the mana pool, MBC as we knew it was doomed to failure.
The other thing MBC needed was a win condition. When Soul Burn rotated out a year ago and Nantuko Shade began its decline in play shortly thereafter (it was seen as too inconsistent in a field full of solid removal), Corrupt became the common path to victory for the black mage. With the loss of Seventh Edition, this was no longer an option; another powerful finisher had to emerge in the new set, one that was consistent and reliable.
So we had two huge problems facing Mono Black Control's quest to stay viable in the Standard metagame. The first thing I did upon the discovery of the Mirrodin spoiler was conduct a frantic search for ways to solve these problems.
And I found them. Problem number one, meet Extraplanar Lens. Number two, meet Consume Spirit.
And there you have it. It's not dead.
I put together my initial build of the new MBC deck about three weeks ago. I worked with five matchups in mind: Goblins, White Weenie, Blue/White Control, Red/White Control, and, of course, the mirror match. After building, testing, rebuilding, testing a bit more, and rebuilding again, the list looked like this...
1 Visara the Dreadful
I'm not going to go into the standard card-by-card descriptions of everything that's in the deck, as I understand that a lot of it is really self-explanatory stuff. But as this is a relatively new deck, being played in a relatively new environment, it makes sense for me to give you a brief overview of some of the more interesting decisions that went into this build of black control.
First of all, Extraplanar Lens is the heart and soul of this deck. While some of the obvious uses of the Lens include powering a huge Consume Spirit for the win or going crazy with a Planar Portal, there is more to the card than meets the eye at first. What has really impressed me about Extraplanar Lens is that it gives you a must-counter spell against any deck running countermagic. Whereas the old MBC had virtually no chance of resolving a Mind Sludge against a good Psychatog player on turn 5, this one has a bit of early help in forcing out a Mana Leak or a Complicate.
Extraplanar Lens is also an amazing weapon for punishing a slow draw from Goblins; if you can live long enough to hard cast a Decree of Pain on turn 5, chances are the game is yours.
Infest is a card in its prime. In an environment where the strongest aggro decks are Goblins and White Weenie, Infest is essentially an undercosted Mutilate. Completely wrecking a God Hand of little red or white men on turn 3 is absolutely priceless. It's a card of which I'd love to run four, but just can't find the space. If your metagame for States includes even more Goblins than mine does, then you may want to try tweaking this list to make room.
Oblivion Stone is a card that, at first, looked a bit too slow to keep up in this metagame, but the fact of the matter is that it is necessary to win against any deck that packs troublesome enchantments like Sulfuric Vortex, Lightning Rift, or mirror-match weapons like Phyrexian Arena and Planar Portal. It also turns out to be great at crushing the aggro player's attempts to bounce back from your stabilizing of the board with an Infest or a Decree of Pain.
Mind Sludge used to be a card that was run in the silver-bullet slot; people would play one Sludge and searched it out when they needed it. Now, with no Duress to use as an early-game predecessor and a metagame full of control decks with no countermagic to stop it, Mind Sludge has emerged into a bona fide game-breaker against Red/White Control, Astral Slide, and opposing Mono Black Control decks. Let's up the count to three, shall we?
Planar Portal is in a way very situational, but I don't mind maindecking it too much because with only one copy, it is used mainly as a Tutor target. Tutoring one out and then dropping it against a Sludged-out control player with no answer can very often win you games. Use it wisely and it will serve you well.
The sideboard is an assortment of goodies to side in for the control matchups. Undead Gladiator is a recurring beatstick in the mirror and against white-based control builds that can at times be a fast clock for the opponent. Persecutes, two Silent Specters, and a fourth Sludge are there to give you a grand total of ten discard spells in these same matchups, while Infest can steer you in the opposite direction, bringing you down to two disruption spells to get in another mass removal spell for the red guys.
Finally, the board features a Riptide Replicator - another form of recurring beatdown as well as a way around those pesky Circle of Protection: Blacks, and one Ensnaring Bridge. The Bridge was choice that I made simply because in a new, and for some people unexplored, format, there are going to be a lot of random decks out there. A Bridge hitting the table against an unsuspecting opponent is sometimes all it takes to shut them down. It's not great in any of the tier one matchups, but it can still be strong against a lot of roguish beatdown players that are sure to turn up in a tournament like States.
And now it's time for our obligatory playtesting results section. Here's the rundown of the top five matchups, and how the new Mono Black Control fares in each.
Goblins is, in the words of the esteemed Ferrett,"Also known as Sligh, and sometimes Sligh just wins." While this is true - a game with a Goblin deck can quite often become a game of sheer luck - Sligh"just loses" more often than it"just wins" against MBC. My testing shows a winning percentage of 65% before sideboarding and just over 50% after boarding. The key to winning game one is to not overextend with your Infest when there's no Decree of Pain in your grip. Goblins, especially in the hands of a good player, has an uncanny ability to bounce back from a stumbling block like a turn 3 Infest. Usually, if you hold back a Terror to deal with big fat surprises like Rorix Bladewing, an Infest can wait until turn 4 or 5. It's okay to let your life total dip down into the five to ten range, as long as you are prepared to stabilize the board completely.
Remember, Consume Spirit can target creatures too; it doesn't have to be used as a finisher if you don't want it to be. If it serves as targeted removal for that last annoying little red guy on the table, and puts your life total back into a safe range for you to set up a Visara (or second Consume) for the kill, it has done well. Life gain can be a very valuable tool against a deck this fast - it's a lesson that was learned in the MBC vs. Red/Green matchups of this past year.
Unfortunately, this brings me to the second part of the matchup, and that is the post-sideboarding struggle you are bound to face with Sulfuric Vortex. My sideboarding of one Infest in and one Mind Sludge out works wonders for stabilizing the red army, but Vortex can still be a problem. Obviously, your plan of holding them off with a Consume Spirit won't work if you can't gain life, and so sometimes ten or twelve is a dangerously low enough life total that the plan of chipping away at you slowly might just work.
In this matchup, you can still win, but it won't be fast. Instead of spending your Tutors on a Visara or Consume Spirit for the big finish, fetch an Oblivion Stone and blow up their threats. You can stabilize the board in the post-boarding games, but it's a slower and less consistent process. I'd still bet on Mono Black to take home the victory.
This one is not quite as fast of a beatdown deck as Goblins is, but will still show up in masses at States because it is a good metagame call to make against them. While it may not be as good in the control matchups, it can dominate the head-to-head rumble with the Goblin decks.
This matchup is better for you than Goblins is. The primary reason for this is that it's slower - their creatures will never have haste, and so you have one turn more to deal with their threats. As long as you have at least one Infest or Decree in your opening hand, you should be good to go - I'd say that your odds of winning game one are close to 70%. Of course, you do still lose sometimes; if they can land an Empyrial Plate or Bonesplitter early on, they still have a chance at being too fast to stop. Also, Exalted Angel is there to remind you not to overextend with your Decrees. Usually though, you're fine as long as your life is in the five to ten range by the time the board is clear of threats. One Consume is usually enough to keep you safe from there.
Inevitably, the post-sideboarding games will bring about problems with MBC's least favorite card: Karma. My answer to Karma is pretty simple: I mulligan my opening hand if it doesn't show me an Oblivion Stone. Stone is a remarkably good answer to Karma in the White Weenie matchup; usually, the WW player will wait to play the enchantment until after their board full of creatures has been stabilized. This way, you usually have enough mana available to blow up your Stone in one or two turns; it will probably deal you ten damage before it bites the dust. After this, a Consume Spirit can put you out of range of a quick Savannah Lions-powered beating.
Don't get me wrong - Karma is still a very scary card to see for a player with no answer. The possibility of your not having a Stone ready is enough to lower your odds of winning to about 50%. However, if you don't see a Karma, the matchup is still smooth sailing. Siding in the fourth Stone and removing one Sludge usually helps.
This one was a deck that started showing up halfway through the Onslaught Block Constructed qualifier season, and did surprisingly well. It has all of the strength of its monowhite counterpart, as well as some countermagic. It's a deck that can be a bit scary for players of counter-less control decks such as this one. But to be honest, Mono Black is not nearly as afraid of U/W as it was of Psychatog last year. U/W generally will run only eight counterspells - four Mana Leaks and four Rewinds - which is not enough to avoid all of your threats.
Unlike the MBC variants of the last Standard season, this one is packed with must-counter spells for control decks. Extraplanar Lens makes it extremely easy to play around Mana Leak (and Complicate, another counter that may pop up in some builds). Oblivion Stone can keep Soldier tokens and Exalted Angels (as well as our good friends, the Karmas) off the board. Phyrexian Arena can give you massive amounts of card advantage. Mind Sludge can wreck them on turn 5. All of these things are stripping the countermagic from their hands; it is much easier to resolve a Consume Spirit now than it was to resolve a Corrupt a year ago. MBC can win at least 55% of its game one matchups.
Post-sideboarding, Karma is once again a threat. I'm not going to give you my"Dealing With Karma" rant again; scroll up a few paragraphs and reread it if you must, but chances are you get the idea by now. A Silent Specter, an Undead Gladiator, and the fourth Oblivion Stone jump into the fray to help out, and you sit there praying for a good hand. Once again, the percentage I'm giving you is going to vary wildly based on whether or not you see the Karma, but I would say it averages out to 40 or 45 percent.
This is a completely different matchup from Blue/White - for one reason. Lightning Rift. Unlike U/W, the Rift-based decks have a way of dealing some early damage before you are able to get moving.
I miss Haunting Echoes.
There will be no first-turn Duress, fifth-turn Echoes to get rid of Lightning Rift - the enchantment is now a bona-fide clock if you don't have an answer. Oblivion Stone is once more a key player, and it can decide games very easily. If it hits early and keeps away the R/W player's threats, the matchup isn't too bad. Your opponent has no countermagic to off a Consume Spirit, and if you have two, the game will end rather quickly. If the Stone never shows up, it will be a struggle. Times like these make you happy to know that Consume gains you life. Use it defensively and stay alive long enough to draw an out. You can win 55% of your games overall.
This deck has white in it. You get the drill: Pray for answers, win if you get them, lose if you don't. I sideboard for this matchup the same way I do for Blue/White, and it is working well. Your win percentage sinks to about 45%. It's a shame that an otherwise good matchup has to be foiled by one card, but what can you do?
This particular build of MBC is one that is mainly built with the Goblin matchup in mind. Goblins is the one deck that is most likely to show up in the aggro-infested metagame of States, and with that in mind, I am treating it as the deck to beat.
That being said, this build is a bit iffy in the MBC mirror match. Terror is a dead card, and the lack of Myr-powered mana acceleration makes my deck a bit slower than many of the other builds. However, no deck with three Mind Sludges is really going to be that weak in a control matchup. My advice is to do whatever you can do to land a Mind Sludge before your opponent does. Tutor for it if you have to - anything to make sure that it's there for you on turn 5. After that, your Arenas can accelerate you into a quick Consume Spirit or two for the kill.
Four Terrors, three Infests, an Extraplanar Lens and a Decree of Pain ride the bench for game two. By siding in four Gladiators, four Persecutes, and a Sludge, you are able to gain both a recurring source of beatdown and a lot more disruption. A matchup that, before sideboarding, looked like 45% in your favor now looks more like 55% or 60%.
The way this build works is that the maindeck is tuned to beat up on the aggro decks, while the sideboard is prepared for control matchups. This is the same balance of power that made MBC a strong choice in Standard last year. I expect the same this year, starting this October 25 at your State Champs tournament. MBC is going to be a serious threat for months. If you're not prepared for it, I pity you.
Until next time, may your mind be sludged and your pain be decreed.
Thanks for reading,
Any questions, comments, advice, or anything else? Feel free to email me at [email protected]; I would love to hear from readers.