Mono Black Aggro Deck Guide: Riku Kumagai’s Players Tour Finals Top 8
Who am I?
My name is Mark Gabriele, and I am an SCG Tour Grinder and avid Arena player. My absolute favorite decks in Standard are all flavors of mono-colored aggro decks. I have been loving grinding the ladder with Riku Kumagai’s Mono Black Aggro deck that they Top 8’d the Players Tour Finals with recently. If you have any questions about the deck, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Twitter at @gabriele_mark!
What is Mono Black Aggro and why should I play it?
Mono Black Aggro is a deck that is designed to take advantage of undercosted creatures, efficient removal, and hand disruption. Riku Kumagai’s list, which appears to be heavily influenced by an Aaron Barich list from a couple months ago, recently sliced and diced its way through a sea of Wilderness Reclamation decks and into the Top 8 of the Player’s Tour Finals, which will be held next weekend. Riku designed their list to be almost entirely preboarded for the Reclamation matchups, which opened up the space for their deck to transform into a control deck post-board against other aggro decks.
Last week, I wrote about Hoshi Yuki’s Mono White Aggro list and why it was well-positioned. A large part of it is that the cards Aether Gust and Mystical Dispute are excellent when playing against the colors that you want to, and very poor when playing against the colors you don’t. This gives white and black aggro decks a large leg up when playing against decks that are maindecking these cards, which most Reclamation decks are. The size of the threats in the Black deck also give it a huge advantage: cards like Hunted Nightmare are very difficult to answer with the removal suite that Temur has access to. The threats that this deck plays are largely informed by Solar Blaze, the sweeper of choice in Four-Color Reclamation decks. Tymaret, Knight of the Ebon Legion, Murderous Rider, Kitesail Freebooter, and Hunted Witness don’t die to Blaze, so they’ll often leave enough power behind to finish the job.
Blacklance Paragon: This is probably the least exciting card in the maindeck, and as a result gets sideboarded out a lot. A 3 power creature for 2 mana isn’t that far off from playable, and being able to give itself, a Knight of the Ebon Legion, or a Murderous Rider deathtouch at instant speed can sometimes be really nice. This also allows you to set up surprise bursts of damage out of nowhere by doing things like casting it on the end step, untapping and casting Rankle.
Gutterbones: Gutterbones is a solid card that helps provide a quick clock in the match-ups where you need it. All of your interaction is only powerful when supplemented with a clock, and turn-one Gutterbones is a large part of that.
Hunted Nightmare: This card sees play because it’s well sized for the format, not because the downside isn’t relevant. Try to play around giving potential Shark Tokens deathtouch, and if they have a Mayhem Devil that you don’t have an answer to, you just can’t cast this card. Thankfully your deck has access to a good amount of removal, so you can usually answer the creature that they put the counter on. Nightmare dodges Storm’s Wrath, Solar Blaze, and Scorching Dragonfire, so it’s really solid against Rec decks.
Kitesail Freebooter: I’m gonna level with you: I didn’t know this card was Standard-legal until I saw this list. It makes a lot of sense though: hand disruption stapled to a Solar-Blaze-proof body. It’s very important to not run this card into Shark tokens or Brazen Borrower, so against blue decks you often don’t attack with it. This card provides a bit of aggression in match-ups where you need it and a bit of disruption in matchups where you need it, but because it only takes noncreature spells, it gets boarded out in a lot of creature-heavy match-ups.
Knight of the Ebon Legion: The best one drop black has access to right now. Its activated ability makes blocking a nightmare, and it does a fantastic job of providing the early game pressure that the deck needs, while scaling well into the late game. I don’t really board this card out much, as it’s good in just about every match-up. If you don’t have anything else to do with your mana and have three or more cards in hand, you can activate Castle Locthwain on your main phase to grow the Knight in your end step.
Murderous Rider: A really solid removal spell, with a fine body on the back half. There would likely be more copies of this card in the maindeck if it was better against Rec decks, but Heartless Act is better in that regard.
Rankle, Master of Pranks: This card is not only very powerful, but incredibly fun to play. It’s good enough that it’s worth playing despite the fact that Brazen Borrowers and Shark Typhoons are all over the place right now. I will, however, advise boarding them out against Borrower decks, because you really don’t want to have to use removal on a 3/1 that otherwise doesn’t really block well against you. It’s more acceptable to leave Freebooter in in these matchups, because a lot of Freebooter’s power is tied up in its ability, whereas Rankle needs to be attacking to be effective.
Spawn of Mayhem: No disruption in this card; just raw damage output. Like Rankle, it gets a pass despite dying to Solar Blaze, because it’s just very good. Like Knight of the Ebon Legion, you can get into some corner case scenarios where the life loss from a Castle Locthwain can help grow a Spawn. I don’t really board this card out, because there isn’t a matchup where I don’t want to be beating my opponent’s face in with it.
Tymaret, Chosen by Death: This card is perfectly serviceable and its activated ability can help you stave off an Uro. Keep in mind that, if they have five cards in their graveyard and stack their abilities correctly, they can play the front half of an Uro without giving you priority to exile it after they sacrifice it. Because of this, you may have to preemptively exile other cards from their graveyard. Tymaret is rarely exceptional, but rarely all that poor either, so it doesn’t get boarded out much.
Duress: The choice to maindeck Duress is entirely informed by how many Reclamation decks you expect to face. If you expect it to be over half of the field, as it was at the Players Tour, then it’s a great card to maindeck. If you think you’re going to be playing against a lot of random decks, or decks trying to beat Temur Rec, then I would advise moving these to the sideboard for more removal.
Heartless Act: The best removal you have access to right now. While it’s poor against exactly Hydroid Krasis, it cleanly answers the vast majority of other creatures in the format at an efficient rate. Its main purpose is to push damage through blockers, especially something like a large shark from a Shark Typhoon.
Mobilized District: The strongest argument for this card is “Why not?”, but two may be pushing it. You play 11 black one drops and two double-black two drops, so it’s very realistic that drawing a copy of this card could mess up your curve on turn two. It is, however, really good in sweeper matchups, so it wouldn’t take a lot to convince me that it’s correct.
Kaervek, Grasp of Darkness, Cry of the Carnarium, Noxious Grasp, Murderous Rider: These are all just different removal spells that excel in various matchups. Building the maindeck with Reclamation decks in mind allowed Riku to build the entire sideboard to focus on other matchups, namely the decks trying to beat Rec decks. This means it can transform into a control deck and beat up on the other Aggro decks, which aren’t able to adjust nearly as well. The maindeck Kitesail Freebooter and Duress make sideboarding much easier, as those are easy cuts against all the creature decks of the format, and you have enough removal that you’ll just about always have things to replace them with.
Agonizing Remorse: One of the rare ways to cleanly answer an Uro, but it also slows down your draw significantly to cast it on turn two. Drawing two of these is really not great, but it’s fantastic to be able to snag wraths before they can ruin your day.
Y NO REGISAUR??????
Rotting Regisaur has been hailed as the answer to Reclamation decks for almost a year now, and it’s been getting bounced by Brazen Borrower with its discard trigger on the stack for almost a year now. The unfortunate truth is that the Rec player really only needs to survive a Regisaur for a couple of turns, as their end game is far more unbeatable than yours, and they have plenty of ways to get to it. Bouncing it with Brazen Borrower, chumping it with a shark token, casting a Wilderness Reclamation and then Explosion-ing it for six the next turn, and even Solar Blazing it if they are four-color; all of these answers weaken the card. Its downside hurts a lot, and it’s just not worth it right now.
Why not Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven?
These cards are really only good when you draw both, and really poor when you don’t. They’re also pretty mediocre against Bant and Rec, which are the main match-ups this deck had in mind when it was built.
Cry of the Carnarium in the sideboard of an Aggro deck?
This is an Aaron Barich special, and one that I made fun of her a lot for, but it’s actually very smart. Sacrifice decks are very, very, very poor matchups for aggro decks like this: for example, the Mono White deck I posted about last week almost can’t win against them. Cry of the Carnarium is really the only single card that you can add that actually makes sacrifice matchups winnable: as long as you sideboard out a bunch of your smaller creatures, you can often get a blowout out of it.