Hello, planeswalkers from across the globe! Control strategies have been viable in Standard recently in many forms. Big mana tap out lists, flashy Rogues decks, and even some reactive Azorius “land-go” builds have had some competitive success. If you missed it, I wrote an article recently on some control decks you can get to Mythic with in the current metagame!
One of the decks I mentioned was my take on Mono Black Control, a strategy I have been enjoying and winning with a lot on ladder in MTG Arena and for good reasons, which I also played at the first F2K United Invitational to a 4-2 result. Today I will try to convince you to play it if I haven’t already last time! Without further ado, let’s break it down:
BO3 Standard Mono Black Control Decklist
I think this deck could function in BO1 almost as it is, with some minor adjustments depending on how much aggro we are facing at the moment. Ugin is still game over for most decks we might face, and we add more spot removal since BO1 tends to be more creature based.
BO1 Standard Mono Black Control Decklist
Mono Black Control is a deck that tries to eliminate all the opponents resources, trading as efficient as possible with removals and discard spells, while generating incremental advantage with some card draw spells, utility lands, a couple of creatures and planeswalkers. The idea of the strategy is to nullify whatever your opponents game plan is, destroying or exiling any threat that touches the board, while removing problematic cards out of the opponents hand. We are always aiming for the late game, with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Crawling Barrens as our win conditions.
The idea behind sticking to one color is being able to exploit lands with extra abilities and MDFCs to their maximum. If we were playing extra colors, we would have to use slots for mana fixing while also losing some consistency. 29 lands means we won’t be missing land drops most of the time, and with 8 MDFCs – 4 being creatures, and 3 drawing cards, it means we substantially reduce the amount of games in which we floodm since there is a high chance our lands will still be able to trade with our opponents resources.
This is a deck with tons of decision making points throughout the game. It is crucial to know which type of removal belongs to which threat in each specific matchup, which cards should be removed from our opponents hand before they are casted, when it’s time to commit resources in drawing or ramping, or when it’s time to start pumping that Crawling Barrens to finally close things out. There’s always a lot of room to learn, improve, and make mistakes along the way. When you end up getting everything right during a game it will feel very rewarding.
Of course, as with any other strategy that has only access to Swamp colors, there are some things that escape from our control, and that is going to be our number one enemy through out the entire game. No, I’m not talking about artifacts, but “the opponent’s top of their library”. We have twelve discard spells in the maindeck (with the ability to go up to eighteen post sideboard) we are going to be seeing the other players hand a lot, and will know how lucky they are at topdecking! Thinking about what our opponent can draw and how we will react to it is crucial, since some strong topdecks can mean losing right away if we don’t prepare for them.
Contrary to what most people believe when they see the list, it is not the aggressive matchups that we want to play the most with Mono Black, but the control mirrors. It turns out that Crawling Barrens is extremely difficult to deal with for most slow decks (especially Yorion builds), and in conjunction with eighteen ways to attack our opponents hand, makes up for a phenomenal configuration for games two and three.
Let’s break down the list and choices, trying to understand what each card wants to do for the deck’s game plan.
Pelakka Predation and Hagra Mauling: I think people still get a bit confused about the efficiency of some of this MDFCs, as they keep looking at both sides and, because neither of those seem to be great, don’t feel like playing them in their decks. These are fantastic additions, and one of the primary reasons for staying mono color. They let you play more lands that you would otherwise, helping you hit your land drops consistently, while giving you pieces of interaction when too many lands are drawn. Pelakka Predation in particular has been great, since it hits many of the most important cards you would like to discard anyway, from The Great Henge and Vivien, to Elspeth Conquers Death or Into the Story.
Crawling Barrens: The most consistent way for the deck to close out games. You would be surprised of how difficult it is to get rid of this colorless menace, as it not only dodges any sorcery speed interaction, but also is not affected by things like Brazen Borrower, or Heartless Act (assuming we have a counter on it). The fact that you can sink in mana and grow it without exposing to removal is awesome, and is not difficult to reach the position in which this ends the game in just a few hits.
Castle Locthwain: There are games in which we only draw interactive spells and lands, and this is a lifesaver in those cases. In those draws, this deck might be able to empty our hand quickly by trading quick removals and discard one for one. The castle is a very good way to make sure we never run out of gas, assuming we are able to protect our life total.
Heartless Act and Eliminate: we are playing four and two here, as I have found Act to be more relevant in games overall, killing important threats like Yorion, Questing Beast, Zareth or Terror of the Peaks. I still kept a couple of copies of Eliminate, since we want to play many two mana interactive spells that affect the board (especially for game one) and this still kills many of the creatures played in Standard at instant speed (and also destroys opposing Crawling Barrens!).
Extinction Event: An important piece of the puzzle. We need some sort of wrath effect for when spot removal. Is not enough, and this does a fantastic job at that. It is still a relevant card against not aggressive decks, as almost every strategy in Standard right now is playing creatures.
Agonizing Remorse and Duress: originally I had the full playset of the two mana spell maindeck and Duress in the board, but with testing realized that I was targeting mostly non-creature cards, even game one. Remorse has the advantage of exiling and hitting anything, and Duress is a turn one play, so a split ended up being better.
Elspeth’s Nightmare: A two-for-one enchantment that has been over performing, sometimes been a 2.5 for one, as exiling their graveyard is usually relevant in many matchups. In games where this does not have a creature to kill, you just slam it to discard a card the next turn.
Cling to Dust: a spell so flexible I wouldn’t cut them for anything at this point. It cycles for one mana, can give you life back, and eventually becomes a two-for \-one, as the longer the game goes the more cards in our graveyard we will have. It also stops Rogues shenanigans, counters the last chapter of Elspeth Conquers, and so on.
Erebos’s Intervention: a singleton in the deck, that could easily be something else if you find yourself wanting a fourth Ugin or an extra land. But it’s huge flexibility earned it a spot for me in the maindeck, as it is a removal spell that can gain life, while also a mass graveyard exile effect at instant speed (therefore a hard counter for things like Dance of the Manse!). Post board it usually ends up being cut, as we add more specific tools for each matchup.
Solemn Simulacrum: An all-star in the deck, the good old sad robot does it all. More mana for this deck means more spells being cast per turn, and a faster Ugin the Spirit Dragon. It leaves a body behind that can block and cycle itself, and the fact that is colorless and survives the dragons exile effect is very relevant.
Mazemind Tome: our primary source of card advantage, with a much appreciated life gain bonus attached to it. This card is so flexible and efficient that I see it being included in most slow control decks moving forward, as being colorless means any strategy can cast it.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon: on of the primary reasons to play the deck to begin with, the eigh mana planeswalker does it all. Anihilates the opponents board, while leaving a potential win condition behind. In matchups were Ugin is good, is amazing, and I could easily see adding a fourth copy to the sideboard if the metagame asks for it.
Covetous Urge: You may laugh at this card in the beginning, until you sideboard it against any slow deck and get to cast it. This does not only remove their best card, but it draws us a copy of it as well! I have had Yorions blinking my Solemn Simulacrum, and Vivien tokens protecting my Ugin. Great card that has seen zero amount of play in the past and is ready to do its thing.
Treacherous Blessing: Three mana to draw three cards is a great deal, and since we are playing black we can’t pass on it. This gets much better post board because games tend to slow down quite a bit, and the damage we take might not be relevant. Plus, we get to exile it with Ugin after casting it!
Shadows’ Verdict: In matchups were it’s good, is great, and against aggressive decks we need more wrath effects post board, especially on the draw. The fact that it removes creatures from graveyards as well is a much appreciated bonus, as it will take care of Kroxas from a rakdos deck or creatures from a Rogues opponent that were about to be brought back.
Bloodchief’s Thirst: More cheap interaction against aggressive decks, while also being planeswalker removal, since post board we might be facing more of that type of card. A resolved Vivien for which we don’t have an answer is one the ways we lose a game without a chance.
Agonizing Remorse and Duress: we compete both play sets after sideboard for control mirrors, while also having the flexibility to adapt against any other deck if we need more dresses than Remorses or vice-versa.
Murderous Rider: an extra way to remove planeswalkers, which as I mentioned before, might be a concern after sideboard. This leaves a lifelinker behind which is nice.
Skyclave Shade: a singleton to include against Rogues, as they mill it and we get to play it for free. I have included it against Doom Foretold as a recursive sacrifice fodder and it has also been very good.
Liliana, Waker of the Dead: an extra card for the Rogues match-up, as it tends to be the most difficult. Against them Lili always enters the battlefield with the ability to kill something (as they usually mill actively mill you) and then sticks to attack their hand. Not fantastic, but it has proved to be useful. I could see her becoming something else in the future.
Gameplay Hints and Tips
- Think carefully which removal spell belongs to which threat. It might be tempting to Heartless Act a creature right away, but maybe you will need it a couple of turns later for a Zareth or a hasty Questing Beast.
- Take your time when discarding. Sometimes it will be obvious, other times you will have to look at your own hand, and think about potential topdecks from your opponent.
- When using Mazemind Tome, always try your best to draw extra cards instead of scrying. Unless you are looking desperately for something specific (a removal spell, or your land for the turn) and you won’t have enough mana to draw and play what you need in the same turn, then always get card advantage out of it.
- Remember that you can add counters to Crawling Barrens without transforming it into a creature, avoiding exposure to removal spells when not necessary.
- Keep in mind that Solemn Simulacrum is colorless, meaning that it will survive Ugin’s exile effect and stay there to protect the planeswalker.
- Ugin is our best card in many matchups, but that doesn’t mean we can’t afford to lose the first one and keep playing.
- During the first turns of the game, try to hold on to your MDFCs as much as you can, to try and play them as spells, unless your hand asks to curve out, and you can’t afford the risk of ending with a tap land later.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
I don’t recommend following sideboard guides, as one tends to not put thought into sideboarding and just copies what others said. Still, I will give a general idea of how I approach post board games in each match-up. Try to use it as a guide in the beginning, and still gather your own conclusions, especially considering what changes to make when you are on the play or on the draw.
Esper Doom Foretold
|+2 Duress||-2 Eliminate|
|+2 Agonizing Remorse||-3 Heartless Act|
|+2 Treacherous Blessing||-1 Erebos’s Intervention|
|+2 Covetous Urge||-3 Extinction Event|
|+1 Skyclave Shade|
This is a good matchup. The idea is to attack their hand consistently, ruining their curve and preventing them from generating card advantage. In this games Elspeth’s Nightmare will shine, removing a key card and preventing Dance or the Manse or even Elspeth Conquers Death to do their thing.
|+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst||-2 Cling to Dust|
|+2 Shadows’ Verdict||-2 Duress|
|+1 Murderous Rider||-1 Erebos’s Intervention|
Our plan here can change depending if we are on the play or draw, and if we know how the opponents configuration will be. If we go second and know will get pressured fast, adding all the removal seems correct. If we are on the play, and know the opponent is on a grindy plan with tons of Viviens and Ox of Agonas, we might want to add Agonizing and Covetous Urge, and even consider Treacherous Blessing on the play.
This matchup is so diverse that I think doing a guide is just misleading, because there are many Rogues variants and ways the opponent can sideboard against us. Skyclave Shade and Liliana always come in, and so does Treacherous Blessing. Against decks with Ruin Crab and all the small Rogues, I would side in the Shadows' Verdict and remove the Extinction Event. Against bigger versions, I would go for an all discard plan, sacrificing removal. A copy of Ugin can be cut here as well, since it’s not usually spectacular and slow, but you still want a couple in your deck as a finisher.
|+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst||-2 Agonizing Remorse|
|+2 Shadows’ Verdict||-1 Solemn Simulacrum|
|+1 Murderous Rider||-2 Duress|
We want all the removal in the world here, along with every tool to gain life, trying to keep the board clean and keep a decent life total. As against any other aggro deck, Mono Red can sometimes have insanely fast draws that are hard to beat, but we have all the tools to consider it a good match up.
|+2 Duress||-4 Heartless Act|
|+2 Agonizing Remorse||-1 Erebos’s Intervention|
|+2 Treacherous Blessing||-3 Extinction Event|
|+2 Covetous Urge|
We bring all the discard spells to attack their hand as much as possible. As against any other slow deck, our plan is to stop them from generating card advantage while doing it ourselves. We keep Eliminate for their Crawling Barrens and potential Sharks.
Mono Green Food
|+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst||-2 Eliminate|
|+2 Agonizing Remorse||-4 Elspeth’s Nightmare|
|+2 Treacherous Blessing||-1 Erebos’s Intervention|
|+2 Covetous Urge||-2 Duress|
|+1 Murderous Rider|
Ugin is our best card in the matchup, and we want to draw at least one per game here. We need to keep in mind that The Great Henge and Vivien are the most difficult cards to deal with, and Trail of Crumbs is also a problem if the opponent gets going with it. Depending on which version the opponent is playing, some Duress might stay in, especially when we are on the draw.
|+1 Murderous Rider||-2 Eliminate|
|+2 Agonizing Remorse||-2 Cling to Dust|
|+2 Treacherous Blessing||-1 Erebos’s Intervention|
|+2 Covetous Urge||-2 Duress|
A matchup that can be problematic, since we can’t do anything about our opponent’s topdecks. Casting a Genesis Ultimatum can kill us on the spot. Even though that is the best card against us, we can’t afford to keep Duress, as it has a high chance of missing due to the Adventure cards. Other than that, our removal and discards are effective, and we might get easy wins if we dodge those topdecks from the opponent.
Thank you so much for reading, hope you give this awesome deck a try! You can find me on social media here, and streaming on twitch almost every day here. See you guys in the next one!