Recently, I’ve been really enjoying my time on Arena as not only has Explorer been awesome, but Standard has been as well! Even in Best of Three, we’ve been seeing significantly more diversity than we normally do which is always a welcome treat. However, if you think Bo3 Standard is diverse, then Best of One must be even more so!
I’ve finally gotten more time to really dive deep into Bo1 again, and just like the last time, I’ve been having an awesome time. Per my usual antics, despite how varied Bo1 is, I’m always looking to circumvent the metagame and find success my own way. While Bo1 is definitely varied, you have 3 different types of decks for the most part: aggro, anti-aggro, and other.
First off, to succeed in Bo1 you definitely need a plan to beat aggro. If you aren’t beating aggro, then you’ve definitely come to the wrong format. Second you have to be cognizant of is the anti-aggro decks. If you can beat aggro, but can’t beat a board wipe, the deck can function, but may not be ideal. Then we get the other, which obviously, we can’t plan for.
So in an ideal world, we have a deck that’s beating aggro, but can also be strong against the anti-aggro decks. How do we accomplish this? Generally speaking, you would build an anti-aggro deck yourself that ideally has good matchups against the more lean anti-aggro decks. But is it possible to build an aggro deck that can accomplish this as well? I believe so.
Mono Black Aggro is a strategy that I’ve been trying out time to time for awhile now, and a lot of the time, I felt that it fell just a bit short of where I wanted. Whether it was the curve that was off, the threats were too weak, it was the wrong metagame, it seemed that it was always the proverbial bridesmaid and never the bride. However, with the release of Streets of New Capenna, the deck has finally gotten a threat suite that I’m both happy with and matches up extremely well against the metagame.
Like any good aggro deck, your curve generally has to start at 1 to have a shot against the other fast decks of the format. In terms of proactive threats, we have the excellent Okiba Reckoner Raid. When playing a 1 drop, the most you’re generally hoping for is that is deals a few points of damage and then forces the opponent to devote a resource to killing it. Not only does Reckoner Raid inherently drain 2 damage (which is close to it’s money’s worth for one mana), it then gives you a 2/2 Menace which is an obscenely good body at one mana. Any 1 drop with evasion is obviously great, but a 2/2 with all upside? That’s super busted.
The next two one drops aren’t proactive in the same way, but both have been excellent as well. Duress has been surprisingly excellent for me so far as a proactive way to clear out scary cards the opponent may have. Even against the aggressive decks, most of them have a reasonable amount of non-creatures to tag so it’s not even necessarily dead there. Despite that, there is still a risk that you could whiff, hence why I only play 2.
Finally, we have Bloodchief's Thirst which is great as a proactive tool to clear blockers, and obviously a reactive tool to kill anything trying to race us. It isn’t the most efficient, but kicking it to kill anything for 4 mana is definitely a nice mode to have and one we use often.
Moving to the 2 drops, I kept it relatively simple in the threat suite with Tenacious Underdog and Tainted Adversary. Considering how many decks play Underdog, there isn’t much more to say about it. It’s a great body and the Blitz ability is awesome in prolonged games. Tainted Adversary is definitely a weirder inclusion for aggro, but it’s been excellent in every matchup so far. It’s a great body, it can always trade at parity and most of the time, trade up, and it has a powerful Kicker ability in longer games. Then we have 3 Infernal Grasp as a bit more removal at a premium rate.
Moving up the curve, we have some excellent options here as well. Graveyard Trespasser has become more and more popular as time passes and for good reason. A 3 mana 3/3 that is incidental graveyard hate, incidental damage, and has a powerful Ward ability is a lot of text on a 3 drop.
Next we have a brand new powerhouse in Shakedown Heavy. Shakedown Heavy hasn’t been as popular as I’d hoped, so I’m having to do it myself! A 3 mana 6/4 Menace is a huge stat line that’s insane against aggro decks and slow decks alike. It’s a huge brick wall that other aggressive decks can’t hope to get past easily and control decks have to deal with it quickly or let you draw a bunch of cards, both really bad situations for the opponent.
Finally, we have the lone Nighthawk Scavenger. I love Scavenger as it’s excellent against aggressive decks, but is relegated as a 1 of as most removal can kill it at a tempo advantage and it is a relative non-bo with Graveyard Trespasser.
Finally to top off the curve, and the real reason to play specifically Mono Black Aggro, is Invoke Despair. This card is insane. It’s pretty much always a 3 for 1 no matter how you slice it and the absolute worst it’s ever been for me is killing a Lolth, Spider Queen, one of the spiders, and The Meathook Massacre that was sitting on board. Even though that’s pretty much the worst possible scenario, almost cleanly answering a 5 mana planeswalker and stopping the errant drain from Meathook is still definitely the investment. Furthermore, this is both card advantage and reach bundled into one package as with each permanent type they can’t sacrifice, you net additional cards and damage which can easily put you in an easy position to win. Lastly, despite the scenarios where you can’t cast it, it’s good at every point in the game which makes it even more valuable.
Overall, what really makes this deck tick is how well it matches up against the metagame. Against aggro decks, pretty much all your threats are good against them one way or another. Okiba Reckoner Raid gives you life, Underdog gives you a grindy threat, Adversary is hard to kill and can trade up, Trespasser is hard to kill, Heavy is a huge threat, hard to kill, and them giving you a card is so bad as it can then defend, and Nighthawk Scavenger is super hard to race.
On top of that, we play so much removal it’s hard to keep a meaningful threat on board. Against slow decks, Reckoner Raid threatens a lot of damage, Underdog is extremely hard to keep off the board, Adversary can flood the board out of nowhere, Trespasser costs multiple cards to kill, Shakedown Heavy kills super quickly, and we have access to a bunch of creature lands. No matter the matchup, our cards just line up really well which makes it a powerful option.
Tips and Tricks
- Remember that although you’ll typically use the Blitz ability on Tenacious Underdog when it’s in the graveyard, you can use it from your hand as well which is easy to miss.
- Against other aggressive decks, I rarely attack with Tainted Adversary as it’s substantially better on defense than it is on offense.
- When you have Graveyard Trespasser out, consider just passing the turn with removal rather than adding to the board more if the 4/4 body matters a lot, you need the graveyard hate, or they have enough creatures that the drain speeds up the clock significantly.
- Against other aggressive decks, unless you are substantially behind, you should pretty much always attack with Shakedown Heavy. If it connects you deal a ton of damage, if they let you draw a card then you have a huge blocker.
- If it fits your curve, you can definitely Duress on turn 1 as playing to curve is the most important part of this deck. However, in an ideal world, you identify what the most threatening non-creature card they could play is and you play Duress the turn before.
- Against slower decks, passing the turn to grow Crawling Barrens is definitely a reasonable line as you can make it a substantial threat over the course of a few turns.